Politics and Strategy

Mark Fitzpatrick: On Ben Rhodes and ‘selling’ the Iran deal

Among the many inaccuracies in the New York Times Magazine profile of Ben Rhodes was the claim by writer David Samuels that the essence of what became the Iran nuclear deal was worked out between the White House and Iran while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was still in power in early 2013. Samuels says the deal was sold to the American public and Congress as having been made possible only once the reform-minded Hassan Rouhani was elected in June that year. To wit, Rhodes had purposely constructed a false narrative about the Iran deal and sold it with the help of an ‘echo chamber’ in the arms control community and media.

Samuels’s claim of falsehood, however, is itself transparently false. For somebody who has been sniping at US–Iranian nuclear diplomacy for some time, he is curiously misinformed about the actual history. As the writer himself acknowledges, President Barack Obama had been making clear since before he took office his desire to engage with Iran, and he reached out repeatedly to the Iranian leadership, including via still secret letters to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Official meetings involving Russia, China and America’s European partners got nowhere, however, until secret bilateral talks began in July 2012; they did not produce results until a year later. So it is hard to understand how Samuels can argue that the White House put forward a manufactured story that it began seriously engaging in 2013 ‘in order to take advantage of a new political reality in Iran’. Yes, the engagement got serious in mid-2013, and yes, it was because of a new seriousness of purpose on the Iranian side under Rouhani. What is surprising, or devious, about this?

Details about the initial rounds of the secret negotiations in 2012 and early 2013 are still hazy. Until now, the public has known only that expectations were kept low and that the Iranians focused mainly on the logistics for setting up higher-level talks, as reported by the Associated Press in November 2013. White House Iran advisor Puneet Talwar told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the next month that when the two sides met in March 2013, ‘the Iranians could not move forward with the talks at that point’. He added that the back-channel talks gained traction after Rouhani’s election and an exchange of letters in August between the two presidents.

At the March 2013 meeting in Oman, the US team conveyed in general terms Obama’s willingness to accept limited enrichment by Iran. But, as confirmed to me by one participant, no proposal was tabled and no answer was forthcoming until after Rouhani was elected. While Ahmadinejad’s team was willing to engage, and to agree to the logistics of a two-step process involving first an interim agreement and later a final agreement, they were not willing to accept the strict limits that were necessary for the Obama White House to accept a deal. Samuels’s claim that Secretary of State John Kerry and Under Secretary Wendy Sherman engaged in formal negotiations with Iran only ‘to ratify details of a framework that had already been agreed upon’ does not pass the laugh test. Samuels may think that getting from an agreement on the structure of a deal to an agreement on the deal’s contents is a mere formality. He is mistaken.

Samuels’s related claim that Rhodes and his team created ‘cheerleaders’ in the arms control community and press corps to sell the Iran policy is similarly tendentious. Many experts had been arguing for allowing some degree of enrichment before this became US policy. I made this argument in February, 2013, for example, and not because I was put up to it by the White House but because I am an independent analyst and I believe it my duty to contribute to the public debate. (And as much as I would like to think of myself as, in Samuels’s words, ‘freshly minted’, I have been in circulation for some time.)

Samuels is certainly correct in noting that the Iran deal is central to the administration’s foreign-policy aims and priorities. The accord is also central to the critique that Obama’s political opponents offer to his policy. It is thus no surprise that every aspect of the accord continues to provide material for dispute. The focus of policy debate, however, should now be on how to ensure faithful implementation of the deal so that Iran’s paths to a nuclear weapon remain blocked, while opportunities are explored to address other areas of contention with Tehran.       

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director of IISS-Americas. He came to IISS in 2005 after 26 years in the US Department of State, serving lastly as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Non-proliferation (Acting).

Dana H. Allin: Trump is really happening

Donald Trump will be the 2016 Republican nominee for president. Just typing those words induces vertigo. I find myself, like many writers, struggling to express the magnitude of this surreal moment in American history. ‘The degree to which, by changing the Republican Party, he will also permanently deform American politics can only be speculated upon,’ writes Slate magazine’s Isaac Chotiner, ‘but his primary victory will, decades from now, likely be seen as one of the defining events of 21st-century America.’ Andrew Sullivan in New York magazine begins with a passage from Plato’s Republic on why democracy leads smoothly to tyranny, and concludes that ‘In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It is long past time we started treating him as such.’

The title of this blog is ‘Politics and Strategy,’ and the entanglement of the two, though clear enough already, is more perfectly illustrated by the Trump ascendance. For as long as I’ve been a scholar of transatlantic relations, United States diplomats and analysts have been strategically concerned with the eruptions of right-wing nationalist parties among European allies. Last month, Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party won the most votes in the first-round voting for Austrian president. He faces a run-off against the Greens’ Alexander van der Bellen this month. In the past this kind of development has stirred anxious and even outraged reaction from the US. Right now that reaction would be ridiculous. While Hillary Clinton will very probably defeat Trump decisively in November, it will be rather difficult for Americans to point to the upcoming campaign as a civics lesson for the rest of the world.

The current issue of Survival contains my Closing Argument, ‘Donald Trump’s America’ I don’t think it is his America in the sense of a country transformed and contorted by authoritarian and bigoted appeals. On the contrary, at one level what we are seeing is a rear-guard reaction against the palpable transformation of the country towards diversity, openness and, for lack of a better word, liberalism. Nor do I think he will be elected president of the US. But it is Donald Trump’s America in the tautological sense that Trump has been the main story of the 2016 primary campaign, and his success so far must tell us something about the state of the nation. It will take some time to figure out what that is.

Dana H. Allin is the Editor of Survival, and IISS Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Overcoming hurdles in implementing the Iran nuclear deal

Nine months after the nuclear deal with Iran was struck, last July, and three months after it went into force, in January, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is proving its worth. Iran is keeping to the agreed limits on its uranium enrichment and other nuclear technologies, in exchange for which it is benefiting from sanctions relief. Both Iran and its Western antagonists blame the other side, however, for dishonouring the spirit of the agreement. As troubling as these claims are, they point to the potential for new diplomatic initiatives to address respective concerns.

Iranian popular support for the deal was evident in the February 2016 parliamentary elections, in which voters decisively rejected hardliners. It would be wrong to characterise the results as a victory by ‘moderates’ since almost all of the candidates from the reformist camp were excluded from running. But victory by supporters of President Hassan Rouhani in a majority of the seats demonstrated that Iranian citizens appreciate his pragmatic approach to foreign policy and his emphasis on improving the economy. The election also showed that the JCPOA had broader impact beyond the technical details of the accord.

Iran is certainly benefiting from the relaxation of sanctions. Oil sales have increased, now up to about 1.65 million barrels per day, from 1 million bpd before the deal, mostly as a result of regaining market share in Europe and India. Formerly blacklisted Iranian banks are now reconnected to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT). Inflation is down to around 12% (compared to over 40% in mid-2013). A majority of Iranians polled now say economic conditions getting better.

The economic boost, however, is not nearly as big as Iran anticipated or as US opponents of the deal feared. The US Treasury calculated that Iranian assets unfrozen by the deal would amount to about $55 billion – not the $150bn estimate often cited by Republican presidential candidates (who also fail to appreciate that the money in question has always belonged to Iran; the US is not ‘giving’ Iran anything). Secretary of State John Kerry said on 19 April that Iran has so far only received $3bn of this amount.

Reinforcing the complaints of other Iranian officials, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in a speech celebrating Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, claimed that ‘the Americans have not acted on their promises and only removed the sanctions on paper’. He referred to sanctions 28 times in the speech, saying: ‘Today, in all Western countries and in all those countries that are under their influence, our banking transactions have been blocked. We have a problem bringing our wealth – which has been kept in their banks – back to the country … The US Department of the Treasury acts in a way that big companies, agencies and banks do not dare to approach the Islamic Republic and have business transactions with it.’

Khamenei got it wrong. The US Treasury actually has issued general licenses that go beyond the JCPOA. A general license issued in late March, for example, permits contingent contracts for the export or re-export to Iran by US persons of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services.

It is true, however, that after years of keeping Iran at arm’s length, Western banks are reluctant to re-engage. Waiting to see how circumstances evolve, none of them want to be among the first bank back in – nor the second, third or even fourth, said a sanctions expert at an IISS workshop in January. Waiting to be fifth back in is equivalent to waiting for Godot.

As an American economist Patrick Clawson put it, major European banks have been subject to billions in US fines for poor enforcement of sanctions and regulations concerning anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism, and for other deceptive practices. They have therefore ‘adopted a “de-risking” strategy predicated on leaving markets where they judge the risk of violating rules – inadvertently or not – is too high to be worth the limited returns.’

It would be wrong to claim that this is the fault of the US government. Clawson cited other experts who described Iranian banks as being heavily politicised, non-transparent and reflective of Iran’s rampant corruption. Iran’s anti-money laundering deficiencies have earned it a designation by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force as a ‘high risk jurisdiction’. In dealing with Iran, foreign banks accordingly must exercise enhanced due diligence, which is costly and potentially time-consuming. Moreover, to avoid US sanctions that still apply to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), foreign firms and banks that seek to do business with Iran must ensure that their partners do not include the IRGC, which very often disguises its business ties.

One other problem facing foreign firms seeking to do business with Iran is the difficulty of conducting transactions in US dollars. Such transactions are not prohibited per se, but transactions with Iran through the US banking system are. It is possible, but cumbersome, to make dollar-denominated deals without coming through US banks.

Media reports in early April suggested that the White House was considering easing restrictions on the use of US dollars in trade with Iran. President Barack Obama himself denied speculation that the rules would be changed. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew later clarified that ‘U-turn transactions’ with Iran would remain prohibited. U-turn transactions, in which dollar deals are cleared through a US financial institution, were banned in 2008.

During the negotiations that produced the JCPOA, consideration was given to removing this ban, but Iran did not fight hard enough for this condition or offer enough in return. It now will not be given up ‘for free’. But the US Treasury is trying to help banks understand what they can and cannot do, and in this way facilitate legitimate business with Iran. Although the Treasury and the State Department have had some differences about how far to go in this regard, clarity is expected soon.

In Iran, the bureaucratic divisions are far greater. Hardliners who retain control of most key power centres are making trouble for Rouhani and for the JCPOA. While they are creating trouble in various ways, the most provocative is the stepped-up tempo of ballistic-missile development. The launches in October and November of the Emad and Ghadr systems clearly violated the UN Security Council resolutions in place at the time, which prohibited testing of missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Iran’s cooperation with North Korea also violated sanctions on North Korea. According to the US government, Iran bought components from the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation and sent technicians to North Korea to jointly work on the development of an 80-tonne rocket booster.

Later missile tests in March did not explicitly violate UNSC Resolution 2231, which replaced the previous restrictions. The Qiam and Qadr (modified Scud C and Shahab-3) systems that were tested that month can travel further than 300 kilometres and carry payloads greater than 500 kilograms, which makes them nuclear-capable under commonly accepted guidelines of the Missile Technology Control Regime. But rather than continuing the mandate on no ballistic missile launches, Resolution 2231 only ‘called upon’ Iran not to conduct launches using technology of ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. In condemning the launches, France, Germany, the UK and the US thus did not claim they violated Resolution 2231, only that the launches were ‘inconsistent with’ the resolution and ‘in defiance of’ it.

Regardless of the launches’ legality, it was outrageously provocative for the IRGC to claim the systems were designed to hit the ‘Zionist enemy’, and to daub on the tested missile body the slogan in Hebrew ‘Israel should be wiped from the pages of history’.

Such behaviour cannot help but be met by a strong reaction by the US Congress, where moves are afoot to impose new sanctions on Iran and to extend the Iran Sanctions Act beyond 2016, when it would otherwise expire. Some members of Congress have made it clear that they want to recreate the pre-JCPOA sanctions on broad sections of the Iranian economy. Obama will veto any such legislation that would prevent the US from implementing the deal, and he continues to have the votes to sustain a veto. Other legislators are considering a more moderate set of sanctions that would not give Iran grounds for claiming abrogation of the accord, but which would add to the political burdens placed on it.

One way to address the missile issue would be to start a new set of negotiations to persuade Iran to accept limits on the development of more deadly and longer-range systems. Iran’s discontent with the de facto banking restrictions it still faces and the additional sanctions likely to be imposed over its missile tests suggests the potential for a trade-off. Kerry recently hinted as much, and although Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif immediately dismissed the idea, it has merit.

Other forms of diplomacy should also be pursued to address Iran’s propensity for regional misbehaviour. In recent weeks there have been several interdictions of Iranian weapons shipments to Houthi rebels in Yemen. In Syria, Iran’s IRGC forces are now being supplemented by regular Iranian army troops. US CentCom commander General Lloyd Austin testified in March that Iran’s regional behaviour has not changed since the nuclear deal, for better or for worse: ‘The fact remains that Iran today is a significant destabilizing force in the region’, he said.

It must be recognised, however, that Iran is not the only regional state engaged in abetting these conflicts. Resolution of the Yemen civil war will require both Iran and Saudi Arabia to stop their military interventions. The sooner that these parties can work out a mutual pull-back, the better. Saudis and other Gulf state Arabs have complained that they were excluded from the nuclear negotiations. They should take matters into their own hands in engaging with Iran over the regional issues that are of most concern to them.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director of IISS-Americas. The above draws on a presentation by the author at an IISS corporate event at Arundel House on 14 April.

Matthew Harries: Party politics and bad luck are dragging Britain towards Brexit

David Cameron is a weak prime minister leading a divided government. The peculiar thing about this assertion is that it is true now, and not a year ago, when Cameron was in charge of a two-party coalition government, a rarity in British politics. In May 2015 Cameron won an extraordinary general-election victory, becoming the first full-term incumbent prime minister since 1832 to increase both his party’s share of the vote and its total number of seats in the House of Commons. He returned as prime minister having shed his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, who were beaten almost out of political existence. In the following months, Labour proceeded to elect as leader a veteran MP drawn from the party’s hard left, Jeremy Corbyn, who duly appointed as his shadow chancellor a backbench colleague, John McDonnell, who in 2006 had described his greatest intellectual influences as Lenin, Marx and Trotsky. Corbyn told the BBC he would never, under any circumstances, use Britain’s nuclear weapons – thereby breaking the taboo that held, based on Labour’s electoral annihilation in the 1980s, that the party should leave unilateral disarmament well alone – and McDonnell, having declared his plan for the British economy to be ‘socialism with an iPad’, quoted from Mao’s little red book on the floor of the House of Commons. Meanwhile, the rapid rise of the Scottish National Party north of the border had cost Labour more than 50 seats, and with the Conservatives dominant in England, there was a reasonable chance that the Labour Party would never again win an outright parliamentary majority.

Yet, facing a political open goal, the government has fractured. David Cameron is currently facing a wave of hostile press over his tax affairs, but his problems and his party’s divisions have much deeper roots. The Conservatives are at war over the same cause that broke them apart in the 1990s: the European Union. Cameron had built his party leadership on healing that wound. ‘While parents worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life, we were banging on about Europe’, he told the party in his first speech as leader. And indeed they had been; most famously, John Major’s cabinet had split in 1993 over the Maastricht Treaty, over which the government was defeated in parliament, helped by rebellious cabinet ministers that Major famously called ‘bastards’. (Writing in the Trump era, it is necessary to point out that at the time, this was a pretty big deal.) Cameron decided to treat Britain’s membership of the European Union as a fait accompli, and brooked little dissent against his moderate approach to the EU. In the early years of his party leadership, it was unwise for a Conservative MP with ministerial ambitions to advocate British withdrawal. But Cameron’s failure to secure a parliamentary majority in 2010, and his entry into coalition with the Liberal Democrats, undermined Cameron’s claims that a move to the centre ground was the only route back to electoral success after three terms of Labour government. This was then compounded by the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which appeared, as the 2015 election approached, to pose a serious danger of splitting the Conservative vote.

In response, Cameron punctured his own dam, promising in a January 2013 speech at Bloomberg’s UK headquarters that if re-elected his government would offer a referendum on British membership of the EU, and embark on a process of negotiating EU reform. In tactical terms, the concession worked, taking some of the sting out of the UKIP threat. Despite winning, at 12.5%, the third-largest vote share, thanks to the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system UKIP won only one seat, and even that was effectively inherited, having belonged to an MP who had defected from the Conservatives. But the crucial concession had already been made. The Conservatives came to power committed to holding a referendum, and Cameron could suppress his party’s euroscepticism no longer. In February 2016, having secured a modest package of promises for EU reform, he announced that the government’s position in the referendum would be for the UK to stay, but that cabinet ministers would be free to campaign for British exit if they so chose (a rare exemption from the principle of collective ministerial responsibility, whereby the price of a cabinet job is the obligation to support the government’s policies, whatever one’s personal objections).

Almost immediately, Cameron lost major party figures to the eurosceptic cause, including London mayor Boris Johnson, who is seen as Cameron’s most likely successor as party leader (Cameron has promised not to serve another term after the 2020 election). Some, such as justice secretary Michael Gove, took a conciliatory approach to announcing their opposition, standing by the government’s broader record. But the spectacle of cabinet unity being wilfully broken seriously undermined Cameron’s authority. It seemed hardly a coincidence that upon the announcement of the new budget in March, the fiercely eurosceptic Iain Duncan Smith resigned as minister for work and pensions, claiming that the government’s simultaneous cuts to disability benefits and corporation tax were an affront to social equality – an admirable sentiment which he had somehow managed to suppress in his six preceding years of ministerial service. Duncan Smith’s resignation, and the almost immediate reversal of the government’s plans to cut disability benefits, were not only an affront to Cameron but a near-fatal blow to the leadership hopes of his chancellor, George Osborne.

Boris Johnson’s defection established the EU referendum as a rallying point for rivals to Cameron, a leader without a natural base within his own party and thus lacking the favourable constituency in the British press that would normally come with it. The dynamic was reinforced in the following weeks: senior Conservative figures with an interest in weakening the prime minister’s grip on the party took to the media to contradict their leader’s core message on Europe. And anything which further weakens Cameron – such as his father’s appearance in the Panama Papers – will weaken, by default, the official voice for Britain’s EU membership. Cameron’s ill fortune is Brexit’s gain.

Thus it was that by the spring of 2016, the nominally pro-EU government of the United Kingdom contained high-profile figures arguing for Brexit from within and without the cabinet, and the nominally pro-EU governing party was in a state of civil war, with close to half of its MPs favouring withdrawal. This might have been bearable, from the point of the broader campaign for Britain to stay, if the natural voices of support for the EU on the left had been as loud as would normally be expected. But they were not.

There has always been a Labour strain of euroscepticism. It shares with its right-wing variant a concern for the EU’s democratic deficit – this was most notably the preoccupation of Tony Benn, figurehead of the Labour left – but it is concerned less with such issues as immigration and cultural sovereignty than with the economic model the EU is supposed to represent. It was prime minister Harold Wilson’s Labour government which campaigned to keep the UK in the European Economic Community in the 1975 referendum, but under Michael Foot in opposition, at the peak of the Labour left’s control on the party, Labour campaigned in the 1983 election for British withdrawal. The ‘longest suicide note in history’, as the party’s manifesto that year was famously dubbed, held the EEC to be an obstacle to ‘radical, socialist policies for reviving the British economy’, including pursuing the target of full employment, national support for industry, restoring exchange controls and regulating direct overseas investment.

This is the political tradition from which Jeremy Corbyn and his allies are drawn. Corbyn voted in 1975 for Britain to leave; in 1993 he said the Maastricht Treaty would hand power to ‘an unelected set of bankers who will impose the economic policies of price stability, deflation and high unemployment throughout the European Community’; and he voted against the Lisbon Treaty in 2008. While campaigning for the Labour leadership in 2015 he said he would support withdrawal ‘if we are going to get an imposition of free market policies across Europe’. Pushing the Labour party to adopt a formal pro-Brexit position would, even for Corbyn, have provoked unacceptable levels of party rebellion, and Labour remains officially committed to Britain’s continued membership. But Corbyn has been no more than lukewarm, and is certainly not mobilising the party for a pro-EU fight. When ‘Labour In for Britain’, the party’s referendum operation, organised a national day of campaigning, for example, Corbyn was busy marching on parliament for unilateral nuclear disarmament.

So the UK’s two major parties are officially in favour of a vote to remain. But both parties are weak and divided, and the strongly pro-European third party is on the brink of extinction. And although it is hard to construct a coherent case that Britain’s material interests would be served by withdrawal, Europe’s problems strengthen both the right- and left-wing cases against the EU. Terrorist attacks on European soil at a time of refugee crisis feed British anxieties about immigration and the security implications of Schengen, notwithstanding the fact that these are largely separate matters, and that the UK is not a Schengen signatory. Greece’s treatment during the euro crisis lends weight to left-wing charges that the EU is a ‘neoliberal’ cartel. On the latter point, it does not help that the most substantive aspects of Cameron’s reform negotiations concerned a search for efficiencies in the operation of the single market.

There is, therefore, great cause to worry about Brexit. The long, slow and now sudden fall of the European centre-left is especially evident in Britain, where the forces of anti-establishment feeling which define much of Western politics are strong; and the topic of the European Union is the open sore of Britain’s party of government. Were the referendum simply an exercise in calculating risk and material interest, it would be no contest, and we can still count on powerful forces mobilising in favour of Britain remaining part of the EU, not least the City of London. The problem is that while the EU operates best by subtracting politics from governance, you cannot subtract politics from a popular referendum. And in this sense the structure of British politics is currently about as unfavourable as could ever have been imagined.

Update, 14 April 2016: Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at Senate House today, his first major address in the referendum campaign, provided one major reassurance alongside continued cause for concern. The major reassurance is that Corbyn stated unequivocally his party’s policy: ‘Labour is convinced that a vote to remain is in the best interests of the people of this country’. The speech was an adequate reassertion of that position, and will provide a useful reminder that the UK’s major parties are formally united in their support for Remain. As George Eaton put it for the New Statesman, ‘The most significant fact of Corbyn’s speech was simply his giving it’. It indicates that this, unlike Trident renewal, is one Labour policy that Corbyn will not seek to alter. And Corbyn went some way towards addressing left-wing concerns about the EU as a hotbed of neoliberalism, emphasising the ‘socialist case’ for remaining a member.

On the other hand, as calls to arms go, this was thin gruel. It was noticeable that Corbyn spoke more in the general than in the individual – this was Labour’s case for Remain, rather than his own – and made no attempt to explain a personal change of heart. His principal argument for the EU’s benefits was as a restraint on the UK’s Conservative government, which will not sit entirely easily in a cross-party campaign led by a Conservative prime minister. And, perhaps more seriously, Corbyn made no effort to rebut many of the substantive claims of the Leave campaign on trade, immigration and sovereignty, sticking instead to a series of talking points about the EU’s contributions in various fields and attacks on the government’s record.

It may be that Corbyn’s lukewarm embrace of the EU is in keeping with the mood of a British public wary of ‘Brussels’ yet resigned to the inevitability of membership. But in a referendum campaign in which the Remain camp suffers a deficit of enthusiasm, and in which voter turnout is likely to be crucial, reluctant conversion to the European cause may not be enough. Today’s speech was a start; without repeated, whole-hearted returns to press the case for British membership, Corbyn’s ambivalence will continue to be a liability. 

Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS. You can follow him on twitter at @harries_matthew.

Bastian Giegerich: EU catches Dutch disease

Christopher Hill, a Cambridge professor of International Relations, once suggested that public opinion in relation to foreign policy was a bit like the Loch Ness monster – a mythical creature, often talked about but rarely seen. Yesterday it reared its ugly head. Dutch voters rejected the European Union–Ukraine association agreement in a referendum, delivering a severe blow to European solidarity and further damaging the efforts of 28 governments to form a coherent foreign policy.

‘Public opinion’ in this case, according to the preliminary results of the referendum, represents about 60% of those Dutch voters who participated in the referendum. With turnout just over 30%, which incidentally was the threshold for a valid referendum, this amounts to roughly 2.5 million votes in an EU of 508 million citizens. Given that the other 27 EU member states have already ratified the agreement, that it already passed a vote in the Dutch parliament, that the referendum is non-binding in character, and that some of the association agreement’s provisions are already in effect, the immediate political challenge is to find a way forward that simultaneously acknowledges the reality of the outcome without wrecking the EU’s agenda for stability and reform in Ukraine.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who publicly supported the agreement, said in an initial reaction, ‘my view is that if the turnout is more than 30%, with such a victory for the “No” camp, ratification [of the association agreement] cannot go ahead without discussion.’ With final results due in a few days, there is little time for Rutte to coordinate within his government and across the EU. In any case, what matters more is the bigger picture.

The Dutch referendum was hijacked by emotions. While the question in front of voters was formally on whether or not they supported the association agreement with Ukraine, even the initiators of the referendum went on record to say that Ukraine did not matter. They wanted the referendum to be a vote on the EU more broadly and an opportunity to vent their general anger.

Instead of the alleged democratic deficit in the EU, leaders should worry about the trust deficit in their societies. It is obvious that the bond between significant parts of electorates and leaders in Europe is broken. When senior government leaders argue in favour of official positions, they risk being labelled undemocratic and condescending vis-à-vis the citizen on the street. Much worse, people seem to have stopped believing that their leaders tell the truth: no matter how many times Dutch leaders confirmed that the association agreement would not give Ukraine a path to EU membership, anti-association voters did not believe them. This might not yet imply a continental crisis of representative democracy, but it is a weakness waiting to be exploited.

Populist movements across the Union stand ready to take advantage. Empowered by modern communication tools, several hundreds of thousands of signatures to trigger a referendum – in the Dutch case 300,000 were needed – can be gathered from the comfort of one’s living room. Decisions are made by those who show up. In the Netherlands on this occasion, 70% did not bother. Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch right-wing Freedom Party, delighted with the referendum and the result, suggested we might have witnessed ‘the beginning of the end of the EU’. Similar triumphalism is likely in Moscow, where Russian President Vladimir Putin will welcome the opportunity to further exploit yet another rift among EU member states in his quest to undermine the liberal international order the EU represents.

In Kiev, where many hopes linked to the 2013 and 2014 protests and change of government continue to be disappointed in the face of persistent corruption and Russian sponsored separatism, it will be hard to interpret the Dutch referendum as anything but a slap in the face and a refusal to let Ukrainians share in the liberal and prosperous vision of closer association with Western Europe. It might also be seen as rewarding Russian aggression and disregard for international law, from a country which saw more than 190 of its citizens perish when MH17 was brought down over Eastern Ukraine.

Finally, there will be consequences for the EU itself. Already badly shaken by multiple crises and in limbo until the British referendum on membership in June, it received a further blow to its foreign policy agenda. A week after the British referendum, the EU is due to present its new ‘Global Strategy’ for foreign and security policy. Its ability to act upon it is declining even before the paper is out. 

Bastian Giegerich is Director of Defence and Military Analysis at IISS. He is co-author of the Survival article The Munich Consensus and the Purpose of German Power.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Getting serious about North Korea

In a talk at the Harvard Belfer Center on 6 April, I argued that it is time to get serious about North Korea, by giving concerted, high-level attention to both sanctions and diplomacy. Pyongyang’s failed test launch of the medium-range mobile ballistic missile dubbed the Musudan underscores the danger and the need.

Over the past three years, world leaders focused intently on the Iranian nuclear challenge, and through a careful combination of incentives and disincentives succeeded in bottling up any Iranian nuclear-weapons option for the next 15-plus years. North Korea presents a far more serious nuclear challenge.

Unlike Iran, North Korea makes no bones about having an active nuclear-weapons programme. It has clearly violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as well as international norms against nuclear testing. It also clearly seeks an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Separating the reality of North Korea’s strategic programmes from the regime’s bluster is not easy. The outlandishness of the hermit kingdom’s boasts makes it tempting to pooh-pooh their capabilities.

We do not know much about their hardware, and we know less about the internal dynamics of the system. Whether the nuclear devices are entirely based on plutonium, and how far their uranium enrichment programme has progressed, remains unknown. The absence to date of test launches of their longer-range missile systems and of re-entry tests underscores the guesswork nature of assessments. Such uncertainty works to the regime’s benefit, because its deterrence and political purposes are served to the extent that adversaries believe they have powerful weapons.

But just because Pyongyang wants us to pay attention, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. While an ICBM threat to the US homeland is still years away, North Korea today presents a clear and present danger to its immediate neighbours. Its Nodong missiles are a proven system which can hit all of South Korea and much of Japan. Armed with a crude 1,000kg warhead, the Nodong can fly 900km – not quite to Tokyo, but the range covers Japan’s capital if the warhead mass can be reduced to 750kg, a task Pyongyang has probably mastered. The Nodong variant displayed in October 2010 could probably fly 1600km, meaning it could also hit US bases on Okinawa, which is likely to be North Korea’s strategic objective.

Concerned states need to take effective action to halt further progress in the North’s strategic weapons programme. Such action has already begun. South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s difficult decision in February to close the Kaesong industrial zone after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test showed how seriously Seoul is taking the issue. China’s agreement to impose tough UN sanctions on 2 March and then to implement them showed a new seriousness as well. But UN Security Council Resolution 2270 has loopholes that now need to be closed, including by banning all coal exports, not just those that funnel money into the strategic programmes.

As important as it is that China stops underwriting the Kim regime through its trade and investments, it is wrong to presume that China alone holds the key to stopping the North's threatening behaviour. At a recent workshop in Washington DC on North Korea it was claimed, bizarrely to my mind, that the role of third parties – meaning China – is vital, yet the US could itself do little to change the regime's nuclear trajectory. China believes the opposite. In fact, both views are exaggerated.

Sanctions alone will not be sufficient. Negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme succeeded because of a combination of sanctions and incentives. Both sides made compromises. US Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew recently warned against ‘sanctions overreach’ - relying too much on sanctions without a broader strategy for achieving foreign-policy goals. He was referring to the Iran case, but the same applies to North Korea.

Concerned states must not rush to offer a deal immediately after the nuclear and missile tests. To do so would encourage Pyongyang to continue such provocations. At some point, however, high-level engagement is needed. It may be too late for the Obama administration to put in place an engagement strategy with North Korea. But it would be very helpful to his successor if he began the effort.

Washington has certainly tried to engage before, with temporary success. In 1994, bilateral talks produced the Agreed Framework; in 2005, Six Party Talks produced a joint statement in which North Korea agreed to denuclearisation, and the US and Japan agreed to begin work toward normalisation. In 2012, bilateral talks produced the Leap Day deal in which the North agreed to a moratorium on nuclear tests, enrichment activity and missile launches. The circumstances in which North Korea eventually broke each deal provided lessons on Pyongyang’s duplicity but also showed how each deal could have been improved.

Unlike the Iran case, the major powers may not have a partner in Pyongyang willing and able to accept compromises. Kim Jong-un, whose schooling in Switzerland gave reason to hope he would bring reforms, now seems more akin to Stalin than to Gorbachev. But we don’t know. It is preposterous that only the American to get to know him is Dennis Rodman.

High-level engagement need not mean major concessions that imperil national interests. North Korea should not be accorded recognised status as nuclear-armed. But its adversaries can engage in peace-treaty talks, as long as South Korea is involved, and there is no presumption of any change to the US–South Korea alliance. A peace regime does not necessarily mean departure of US forces.

North Korea probably will not trade away its nukes, but it may agree again to freeze the programme. It should also agree on no transfer of weapons technology. Internal verification is problematic, but interdiction efforts of the type used in the Proliferation Security Initiative can enforce the existing ban.

The United States has to be careful not to signal that it only cares about containment, and not denuclearisation, which must remain the goal. If diplomacy does not work, concerted effort to put pressure on North Korea will be ramped up. Efforts to sharpen the regime’s choices serve a longer-term goal of hastening internal conditions in North Korea for changing the nature of its government, ideally through unification with the South.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director of IISS-Americas.

Faisal Hamid: The fear of American Muslims

Islamophobia, in the sense of a fear of Islam, was an appropriate term after 11 September 2001. The hijackers were ostensibly Muslim; al-Qaeda used Islam to justify the attacks. My fourth-grade classmates told stories about how the hijackers’ religion instructed them to kill. They were genuinely afraid. Since then, the nature of their fear, and the fear of others like them, has changed. When Barack Obama was elected president, 12% of the country believed that a Muslim was moving into the White House. Amazingly, that proportion has grown during his presidency, to nearly 20% in 2010 and 30% today. These are angry Americans, whose anger is ready to be exploited and used as a mobilising political force.

I experienced the effects of this organised anger in the midst of the bizarre controversy in 2010 over the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’, so called despite being neither truly a mosque nor located at Ground Zero. In the first week of my freshman year at Yale, on my way into the local mosque for Friday prayer, I walked past a New Haven police car. The Connecticut Muslim community had been so inundated with threats of violence that it requested police protection.

Today, major politicians can mobilise vitriol against Muslims with impunity. When Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said that Muslims would need to be schizophrenic in order to both adhere to Sharia and democracy, he did so ignorant of what Sharia is. Ted Cruz wants law enforcement to ‘patrol and secure’ Muslim neighbourhoods; New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton responded that the candidate has ‘no idea what the hell he's talking about’. When Donald Trump called for a ban on all Muslims from entering the country, his poll numbers rose. I am not frightened by politicians turning to populism; politicians have always done so, and businessmen like Donald Trump are trained to take advantage of consumer sentiment. But I am afraid of what comes next.

A growing number of Americans who are angry about stagnant incomes, a culture war that they are losing and a demographic shift away from whiteness are looking for a target. If they settle on Muslim Americans, our lives will be in danger. Such targeting has so far ranged from the bizarre to the deadly. Some have taken to wrapping strips of bacon around the door handles of mosques, including in my Bay Area community (perhaps unaware that, as the religious scholar Reza Aslan pointed out, bacon is not the Muslim kryptonite). Early this winter, a woman allegedly threw coffee at a Muslim man praying in a park 25 minutes from my house. Days later, a man was arrested for building a pipe bomb to blow up the mosque my friends attend in Richmond, California. In some communities, armed second-amendment extremists stand outside of mosques to intimidate worshippers.

In October 2015, the family of Ahmed Mohamed announced that the 14-year-old would be moving to Qatar to finish school at the Doha Academy. Ahmed had been the subject of national attention after he was arrested at his Irving, Texas, school the previous month under suspicion that the homemade clock he had brought to show his teachers was a bomb. His family described the fear he felt that day, and after receiving numerous threats in the subsequent weeks. Ahmed later said that he wanted to come back to Texas but had been dissuaded: ‘I was scared because I’ve heard what happened recently with, like, people with guns going to my local mosque.’

I saw a younger version of myself in handcuffs when Ahmed was taken out of school. There is a definite physical resemblance. I know how I would have felt, too: scared and confused, but also increasingly angry. I know I cannot do anything about terrorism in Iraq and Syria; I cannot do anything about dictatorship in Egypt; I cannot do anything about sexism in Saudi Arabia; I cannot do anything about suicide bombers in Pakistan; I cannot do anything about psychotic killers in Boston and San Bernardino. But when my father is pelted with eggs or my sister’s headscarf is torn off in high school because of events totally out of their control, what else can I feel but fury?

At a recent speech to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, his first visit as president to an American mosque, Barack Obama spoke directly to young Muslims like Ahmed Mohamed and me: ‘If you’re ever wondering whether you fit in here, let me say it as clearly as I can, as President of the United States: You fit in here—right here. You’re right where you belong. You’re part of America, too.’ I fear that a growing part of the country does not agree.

Faisal Hamid is a Masters candidate at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Removing Japan's dangerous fissile material

Japan’s shipment this week of 331kg of weapons-grade plutonium to the United States represents a signal achievement in global efforts to strengthen non-proliferation and nuclear security. It shows Japan’s good will and reflects close US–Japan relations. 

The plutonium in question was sent to Japan years ago by the US, UK and France, and has been used exclusively for peaceful scientific purposes. Because it was potentially vulnerable to theft or misuse and was no longer necessary for research, the United States offered to take it off Japan’s hands. In line with global best practices, it will be consolidated with other plutonium and stored at the heavily guarded Savannah River Site in South Carolina. 

Japan’s agreement to remove this fissile material came in 2014 at the third of the Nuclear Security Summits set in place by US President Barack Obama. Without the action-forcing impact of a summit, such a decision probably would not have been forthcoming. The move to begin loading it this week was in turn spurred by the timing of the fourth and last Nuclear Security Summit to be held in Washington at the end of March. It will be announced at the summit that all of the plutonium as well as the highly enriched uranium that foreign countries had supplied to Japan has been removed.

As I noted when the decision was made to repatriate this fissile material, it was a good news story that Chinese critics of Japan sought to twist as concealing something sinister. Even though Japan is far more transparent about its nuclear holdings and, in contrast to China, has no nuclear-weapons programme at all, such critics miss no chance to criticise Japan for its accumulation of plutonium that could potentially be used in weapons.

The criticism is usually focused on Japan’s massive stockpile of reactor-grade plutonium: 11 metric tonnes stored in Japan, plus another 36 tonnes reprocessed in France and the United Kingdom. There is also concern that the amount will further grow if and when the reprocessing facility at Rokkasho begins operation. A by-product of nuclear power plants, the stockpile was supposed to be kept in balance and reduced by means of fabrication into hugely expensive mixed oxide fuel (up to nine times most costly than regular nuclear fuel) and burnt in designated reactors. Safety concerns heightened by the Fukushima disaster and technical troubles have rendered the plan fantastical.

The size of the plutonium stockpile is one of several reasons Japan should forego reprocessing, which makes no economic sense and raises suspicions among its neighbours about Tokyo’s intentions. The strongest reason, however, concerns security, as spelled out at an insightful forum on 22 March organised by the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center on ‘US-Japanese Nuclear Cooperation and the Problem of Plutonium’. If Japan proceeds with Rokkasho, it will further incentivise China and South Korea to proceed with their own reprocessing aspirations. Producing more weapons-usable plutonium in a region that already features three nuclear-armed states will exacerbate tensions and the potential for nuclear terrorism. As Steve Fetter of the White House Office of Science and Technology has argued, ending plutonium reprocessing would be the single largest contribution Japan could make to strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Given the seemingly intractable obstacles posed by local politics, even those Japanese officials who oppose Rokkasho say it would be impossible to declare Rokkasho dead. Some therefore see perpetual postponement on technical grounds as the only way out. In January, start-up was postponed for the 23rd time, pushing it to 2018. But repeated delays will not address the suspicions of Japan’s neighbours.

The plutonium stockpile and Rokkasho are not the only issues of potential proliferation concern. Realistically, if Tokyo were ever to consider pursuing nuclear weapons, it surely would want better fissile material than the unreliable and hard-to-handle reactor-grade plutonium. 

As I explain in my book on Asia’s Latent Nuclear Powers: Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, Japan actually has a small store of ‘supergrade’ plutonium that is higher purity than weapons grade. Up to 22kg was produced in blankets at the Joyo prototype fast breeder reactor (FBR) in 1977-78 and up to 62kg in blankets at the Monju FBR. Together, it would be enough for about 20 weapons. The plutonium is monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency and is unseparated, meaning that it could not be used without reprocessing, probably in a specially designed facility that would need to be built. The supergrade plutonium thus does not represent an immediate proliferation risk. If Japan wants to be completely clean, however, it should take steps to remove this fissile material, too.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Executive Director of IISS-Americas.

Jonathan Stevenson: Grim business as usual after Brussels

The analytic consensus was that the Paris attacks on 13 November 2015 that killed 130 people signalled a new phase for the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), in which it would supplement its attempt to establish a caliphate in the Middle East and North Africa with out-of-area attacks that enhanced its brand and thickened the flow of recruits to the main cause. The question was when the next concerted attack would occur, and where in Europe or the United States ISIS would choose to strike. ISIS-inspired lone-wolf operations, such as the one in San Bernardino, California, didn’t qualify as such, and the answer turned out to be Brussels – like Paris, a prominent symbolic target, arguably even higher in value given its status as headquarters of both NATO and the European Union. Some 34 died, and over 200 were hurt.

There will be calls for international solidarity, tightened airport and ground-transportation security, less porous borders within and outside the EU, restrictions on the entry of Middle Eastern refugees and the movements of potential foreign fighters, enhanced intelligence sharing and coordination, more intelligence and security personnel and intensified air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq. And there will be jingoistic, simplistic and largely substanceless criticisms of the Obama administration’s judicious Middle East policy, many from the US campaign trail. Security improvements will be made at the margins. But although the Brussels attacks came only four days after the arrest of Paris terrorist Salah Abdeslam, the timing is probably coincidental; it is unlikely that ISIS has the capacity to plan and execute an attack on such short notice. Unless ISIS follows quickly with another well-organised, highly lethal terrorist operation in Europe or the US, the transatlantic security community will probably settle into the calm if grim dispensation that Brussels has confirmed the post-Paris threat assessment and reflects business as usual: periodic terrorist attacks on European soil.

The operation was, to be sure, a tragic reminder that Islamist terrorists will not go quietly or quickly, and that Islamist terrorist infrastructure in Europe long predated ISIS and is not easily dismantled. Al-Qaeda responded to the global counter-terrorism mobilisation after 9/11 by hitting soft transnational targets of opportunity, including Madrid and London, which for a time became its new normal alongside al-Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI’s) campaign against the US-led coalition in Iraq. ISIS appears to be essentially following that model. The understandably emotional response of Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel that ‘we are at war’ may sound like a call to arms. In strictly factual terms, it is a redundancy. A US-led multinational coalition, including Europe, has been at war with ISIS for more than 18 months, the US pounding its positions in Iraq and Syria with nearly 10,000 air strikes. And a so-called ‘war on terror’ in general has been under way since 9/11.

The reality, however frustrating, is that, under any of several plausible hypotheses about ISIS’s motivations, it is difficult for Washington and European capitals to do much more. Under increasing pressure, and gradually losing territory in Iraq and Syria before and since the Paris operation, ISIS may have extended its operations to Europe to deter the United States, by bleeding its European allies and implicitly threatening similar attacks on the US homeland, from escalating in the Middle East theatre. Or – acutely aware that its ancestor AQI arose as the result of US military ground intervention and killed more Americans than any other al-Qaeda franchise – the Islamic State’s leadership may recognise that even if the deterrence strategy backfires, the United States’ further militarisation of its regional counterterrorism effort could ultimately benefit ISIS in terms of recruitment and prestige. A Middle East in violent geopolitical turmoil jibes with the Islamic State’s apocalyptic eschatology, which is as big a selling point now as it was for al-Qaeda a decade ago. If ISIS is thinking win-win in aiming for either a military pullback or fuller military intervention, the US and its partners would be well-advised to hold their nerve and give ISIS neither satisfaction, continuing to focus on diplomacy backed by limited military force. In other words, business as usual.

A third, more radical possibility is that ISIS – unbound by the formidable mass-casualty precedent of 9/11 that seemed to constrain al-Qaeda central from engaging primarily in more traditional forms of terrorism – simply aims to mount a high-tempo urban-warfare campaign, gunning down innocents and blowing them up in place like a turbocharged Provisional IRA. This scenario may be the most sobering: the strategy’s logistical and weapons requirements are relatively modest, and the dire prospect of ISIS directly engaging Western forces and citizens at close quarters on their home turf – thus shaking the public’s confidence in the government’s capacity to protect it – conjures the intense politicisation of counter-terrorism with potentially dire consequences for modern governance and open society. Yet, in the ethno-nationalist and ideological terrorists of the Cold War era, European governments faced similar challenges and learned from them – among other things, resisting the militarisation of counter-terrorism in favour of a law-enforcement approach. Like al-Qaeda, ISIS has given them more to learn and more to do, but it’s still business, more or less, as usual.

Jonathan Stevenson is IISS Senior Fellow for US Defence, and Editor of Strategic Comments.

Russell Crandall: Mr Obama goes to Havana

Americans perhaps needed to rub their eyes after watching US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro warmly shaking hands and listening to a Cuban military band play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ yesterday. This was during a welcoming ceremony to the official talks on the American president’s second day of a three-day visit. Obama went over to the bandleader to thank him for the excellent rendition of a song that, as the New York Times reported, was ‘unlikely to be in its repertoire’.

‘It’s been nearly 90 years since a US president has stepped foot in Cuba,’ President Obama said to a group of US Embassy officials soon after his arrival on Sunday. Indeed, Calvin Coolidge was the last sitting president to visit the Caribbean nation in 1928 when he praised Cubans as ‘independent, free, prosperous, peaceful and enjoying the advantages of self-government’. (Jimmy Carter visited as an ex-president.) And, as Obama pointed out, it took Air Force One three hours while Coolidge’s battleship took three days to reach Havana. Obama’s goal? Continue a delicate bilateral dialogue with a sclerotic totalitarian regime, make a personal impression on 11 million Cubans and expedite the economic, diplomatic, and even cultural normalisation process.

Obama’s decision to visit rests squarely on his belief that the opening to Cuba is one of his important foreign-policy legacies. Given that relations have been effectively frozen since 1960, his awareness of the history books is not without merit. Preternaturally inclined to play the long game both domestically and abroad, Obama’s hope is that his dramatic action on Cuba will force recalcitrants in both Washington and Havana to come around eventually. As for the Congressionally mandated trade embargo in place since 1960, Obama showed his hand in a recent pre-trip interview. ‘My strong prediction is that sometime in the next president's administration, whether they are a Democrat or a Republican, the embargo in fact will be removed, because it makes sense for us to be able to sell into Cuba, to do business with Cubans, to show our business practices and how we treat workers and how we approach issues of human rights.’ Obama’s optimistic stance is buoyed by the strong majority of Americans who favour ending the embargo and establishing normal relations. The holdouts, such as US senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who give rote recitations of Cuba’s undemocratic regime to justify an embargo older than they are, will look increasingly like those Japanese soldiers who kept on fighting on remote Pacific islands years and decades after the war had ended.

Eager to demonstrate that his engagement of the decidedly undemocratic Havana regime did not mean jettisoning human rights, Obama is meeting with civil-society activists and the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who at the behest of Pope Francis helped broker the secret deal between the two governments. Yet any idea that Obama’s charisma and bold policy rapprochement would bring swift reform was quickly disabused with reports that Cuban security forces had made dozens of arrests hours before the visit – including at the weekly march of the visible dissident outfit Ladies in White, whose leader Berta Soler was scheduled to meet with Obama on Tuesday. Another dissident, Elizardo Sánchez of the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told the New York Times that over 500 activists had been detained in March, a decided uptick. As Sánchez explained, ‘It’s the climate of intimidation the government is creating for Obama’s visit. Right now what you see is preventive repression, so it does not occur to anyone to say anything to Obama while he is here.’ Or as another regime opponent in the eastern provincial city of Santiago de Cuba characterised the unfolding crack down, ‘It’s the third law of Newton: the greater the actions for democracy, the greater the repressive reaction by the regime.’

Even the ostensibly cultural event of Mr Obama viewing the Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays take the diamond against the Cuban national team could not escape politics and intrigue: the invitation-only ballgame distributed tickets mostly to regime loyalists. Yet the real high-stakes game is not the one that retired Yankees star Derek Jeter will be attending alongside Obama. The clue is in the way that Obama manoeuvred an obviously unhappy Castro into taking questions from reporters, including awkward questions on political prisoners, at their joint press conference yesterday. The American president is betting that his brief rapprochement will help trigger the seismic tremors to one day loosen or even topple this communist regime.

Russell Crandall is a Professor of American foreign policy at Davidson College in North Carolina and a contributing editor to Survival.

Dana H. Allin: Donald Trump and the American Dream

Last night, on the Republican candidates’ debate stage in Detroit, Michigan, frontrunner Donald Trump assured his supporters and other viewers that there is ‘no problem’ with the size of his penis. And lest we imagine that this unique moment in American political history was the special contribution of our most famous Bronx real-estate-magnate-cum-vulgarian, we should note that the subject was first raised not by Trump but by Senator Marco Rubio – fading favourite of the Republican establishment – on the campaign trail earlier this week.

In the film of public life, this is the dream sequence – the kind of dream from which America has been trying exhaustedly and futilely to wake itself since sometime last summer. Or it is the reality-TV version of The Great Gatsby except that Fitzgerald’s somewhat shady Gatsby was self-made, not the mediocre steward of an inherited fortune; Gatsby’s strivings for lost love and green-light redemption followed a lyrical trajectory; and he was a character in a novel. As a third alternative, Robert Kagan, the neoconservative historian and public intellectual, proposes Greek myth. ‘Today’s Republican Party is our Oedipus’, Kagan wrote last week. ‘A plague has descended on the party in the form of the most successful demagogue-charlatan in the history of U.S. politics.’

Kagan’s crucial argument is that his party, like Oedipus, brought the plague upon itself. Trump, he insisted, is the natural consequence of the ‘party’s wild obstructionism — the repeated threats to shut down the government over policy and legislative disagreements, the persistent calls for nullification of Supreme Court decisions, the insistence that compromise was betrayal, the internal coups against party leaders who refused to join the general demolition.’ Trump’s bigotry has also been ‘enabled’, Kagan insisted, by the party’s attacks on immigrants, its trafficking in Islamophobia, and by its drumbeat of ‘Obama hatred, a racially tinged derangement syndrome that made any charge plausible and any opposition justified’.

Kagan was among the hundred Republican foreign-policy analysts and operatives who signed an open letter, circulated on Wednesday, vowing that they will not support a Trump campaign if he wins the nomination. Yesterday was also the day that Mitt Romney, who enthusiastically embraced Trump’s endorsement in 2012, denounced him in a speech in Salt Lake City as a dangerous fraud. And in the debate there started to emerge the signs of a strategic cartel, with Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz indicating that they would both stay in the race, not so much to win as to deny Trump a majority of delegates before what would then become a contested – and absolutely fascinating – Republican convention.

But Kagan in his Washington Post op-ed intimated strongly that this would not be enough. ‘For this former Republican, and perhaps for others, the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton. The party cannot be saved, but the country still can be.’ On the reasonable, though by no means certain, assumption that Trump continues to be successful, the central drama of the next six months will be how many Republicans follow Kagan’s renunciation. Some have spoken instead of backing a third-party candidacy, which would probably have the practical effect of ensuring a Democratic victory, and which also might split the Republican Party irrevocably. The candidates last night, however, were asked at the end of the debate whether they were still committed to supporting the party’s nominee, even if it is Trump. They all said yes.

Dana H. Allin is the Editor of Survival, and IISS Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs.

Dana H. Allin: Trump's loud silent majority

The silent majority STANDS WITH TRUMP.’

For someone who can remember the 1968 United States presidential election, these placards, waved by Donald Trump supporters at his Tampa, Florida campaign rally on Monday, are striking. Trump, too, is more than old enough to remember 1968, and the historical echo is clearly intended. The silent majority was Richard Nixon’s phrase, and he used it with great effect to channel the resentment of middle class Americans against campus radicals, urban (which is to say, black) rioters and the general spectre of social breakdown.

Nixon had conservative, even reactionary instincts – he was a genuine anti-Semite, for example – but he was also an establishment Republican with pragmatic policy ideas. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote a few weeks ago that the Republican Party, and by extension, the country, needs a Richard Nixon today – a conservative politician who can channel the atavism of Trump followers, as Nixon channelled the racist anger of George Wallace followers, but without abandoning civilised norms. The point being that Nixon, whatever his personal demons, went on to pursue sensible, mainstream policies in the White House. Douthat is a thoughtful and always interesting conservative, and his arguments are usually worthy of reflection. Nixon, of course, also pursued a ‘Southern Strategy’ to capitalise on the disaffections of southern whites with a Democratic Party that had embraced the civil-rights movement. This started the consolidation of the former party of Lincoln in its stronghold in the former southern confederacy. But Nixon accomplished this realignment without actually trying, or pretending, to roll back civil-rights advances.

The 1968 comparison has seemed ever more apt in the past two weeks. Trump’s incitement and his campaign events have become more violent. At the beginning of this phase, Peter Beinart wrote presciently about the Wallace resemblance. Wallace then, like Trump today, ‘turned protesters into props for an audience hungry to see order restored – if necessary, by force’.

There is arguably no prospect of a Nixon stand-in today because the conservative dogmatism of the other Republican candidates leaves no room for the pragmatism that Trump himself has hinted at – when he’s not promising to ban Muslims from the US, or target terrorists' families, or deport 14 million immigrants. (In Douthat’s words, the other Republican candidates ‘lack a second Nixonian gift: An instinct for the non-ideological character of many American voters, primary voters included.’) John Kasich, who won his home state of Ohio on Tuesday, may be an exception, but Kasich's only hope is to arrive at the Republican convention this summer as the plausible alternative if Trump, who will certainly have a plurality, if not a majority, of delegates, can be dispossessed of the nomination that he and his supporters believe is already his. Trump has already warned about what could happen if he is deprived of the nomination – more violence.

Dana Allin is Editor of Survival, and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Iranian election results spark cautious hope

Elections were held on Friday that fanned hopes for the reform of two stigmatised regimes. The one of perhaps the most global interest concerned scandal-plagued FIFA. To the surprise of many observers, Gianni Infantino was selected as president to replace the suspended Sepp Blatter. Infantino promised change, but many FIFA fans are to see deeds that back up his words.

More significant elections took place in Iran for that country’s 290-member parliament and the Assembly of Experts, 88 senior clerics who select, and ostensibly oversee, the Supreme Leader. The results there, from what was a clean election with 60% participation, saw reformists and pragmatists (to the extent that such labels are meaningful) gain a landslide victory.

The final tally will not be known for several days, and 59 seats will require run-off elections. But the ouster of several leading hardliners and the near-total sweep by supporters of President Hassan Rouhani in the capital city underscores the magnitude of the political shift.

The results were a positive endorsement of Rouhani’s pragmatic leadership and a rejection of the hardline conservatives who have impeded his efforts at domestic reform and who opposed detente with adversaries. In particular, the vote was a referendum on the nuclear deal, which had entered into force just weeks earlier. High expectations on how much and how soon Iran’s economy will reap benefits from the accord may be sharply dashed in the months to come. For now, however, a sense of euphoria reigns. Rouhani has a popular mandate to continue to pursue constructive engagement with Western countries.

At the beginning of the year, when thousands of registered candidates were disqualified, including most of the reformists, it looked like this election would again be rigged in favour of hardliners. The disqualifications left conservatives in many districts facing no opposition. The election results that gave Rouhani supporters – a combination of reformists and so-called ‘moderate conservatives’ – a majority of seats in both the parliament and the Assembly of Experts is thus all the more stunning.

The results do not necessarily foretell positive shifts in Iranian policies. A popular mandate is one thing; a mandate from the Supreme Leader is another. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s deep distrust of the United States augurs against hopes for restored relations anytime soon.

We have seen this movie before, when reformists ruled both the parliament and the presidency in the early years of this century. Hardliners remained in key positions of power, including the Judiciary, the Justice Ministry and the Revolutionary Guards and other security forces, and blocked president Mohammad Khatami’s reform efforts. With those institutions still under hardline control, the system remains rigged. Rouhani has little ability to overturn or even forestall detestable actions by the hardliners, such as keeping dual US-Iranian citizen Siamak Namazi in Evin Prison and then luring his 80-year-old father to Iran and jailing him too.

Nevertheless, Iran’s 26 February election has deep significance. If 75-year-old Khamenei dies during the eight years of the current Assembly of Experts’ term, his successor is now likely to be more moderate. The new parliament will be more supportive of the nuclear deal and less likely to encourage steps that would undermine it.

The Iranian election results stand in sharp to contrast to American popular attitudes towards the deal. A Gallup opinion poll in mid-February found 57% of Americans disapproving of the accord and only 30% approving of it. Every Republican Party presidential candidate thinks that vowing to scrap the deal is a winning hand. If any of them were to be elected and then to carry out that promise, the contrast between images of Iranian electoral moderation and American rejectionism would be jarring, indeed. It could cause one to throw in the towel on US politics and give undivided attention to football.

Mark Fitzpatrick (@FitzpatrickIISS) is Executive Director of IISS–Americas. Read his most recent Survival article, on the virtues of the Iranian nuclear deal, here.

Jonathan Solomon: A conventional dual-track decision for NATO?

The NATO defence-ministerial meetings in February marked a turning point in the Alliance’s handling of the increasing Russian threat to Euro-Atlantic security. For the first time since Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea and subsequent initiation of sponsored insurgencies and then direct intervention in Donbas, NATO’s members have collectively concluded that the Alliance’s two and a half decade-old conventional deterrence posture in Central and Eastern Europe is insufficient to meet the present danger. Consequently, the defence ministers agreed that a larger and persistent ground-force presence must be established in and near the Baltics, as well as elsewhere along NATO’s eastern frontier.

Establishing such a consensus was no small feat. Even after the events of the past two years, not to mention Russia’s 2007 ‘suspension’ of fulfilling its responsibilities under the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty regime, 2008 invasion of Georgia, 2009 and 2013 simulated nuclear attacks against NATO and EU countries, and post-2013 pairings of increasingly belligerent rhetoric with multiple opaque ‘snap’ mobilisations of forces along Europe’s periphery, a divide persisted in the Alliance. Some countries were eager to avoid provoking Moscow or to maintain lucrative relations with Russian businesses; others took this Russian behaviour to signify a new and perilously deep hostility towards the West. The meticulous diplomacy of those who assembled the Alliance’s new consensus should be applauded.

Regrettably, though, the shared understanding that more must be done to deter Russia is not translating into the establishment of a conventional deterrent whose structure and posture is adequate for covering the full spectrum of options by which Russia might challenge the peace. While the Alliance’s defence leaders made it clear that a continuous forward presence in and near the Baltic states, as well as elsewhere in Eastern Europe, will be maintained using multinational rotationally-deployed forces that demonstrate a ‘sharing of the stakes’, they almost certainly will not be sized or composed such that they would have a good chance of bogging down or bloodying a minimal-warning Russian thrust into frontline states. Instead, it appears the expanded forward deterrent will be structured to be a moderately larger ‘tripwire’ force that is meant to do little more than symbolise NATO members’ commitment to ensuring the security of their most vulnerable frontline allies.

There are countless problems with relying entirely upon this kind of conventional deterrence model; Elbridge Colby and I detail many of them in our article in the December 2015–January 2016 issue of Survival. And these problems are exacerbated by the proximity of the Baltic states, Poland and other NATO members to Russia, as well as the sheer numbers of combat-ready forces Russia could quickly mobilise for action against the Alliance. Russian leaders might well come to believe that a fast-moving, discriminate, limited-scale thrust could extract some gains at the expense of one or more embattled ‘frontline’ members of NATO well before forces sufficient to arrest the offensive could be deployed into the conflict zone, and that NATO leaders might opt to accept nuclear-armed Moscow’s newfound spoils as a fait accompli rather than incur the costs and risks of hazarding forcible rollback.

It appears one of the principal factors driving the Alliance’s reluctance to deploy a larger and more combat-capable (and credible) forward deterrent is a desire to adhere to the spirit of the 1997 NATO–Russia Founding Act. It’s worth noting that NATO’s political commitment to refrain from ‘permanent deployments of substantial forces’ in Eastern Europe was implicitly predicated on a ‘current and foreseeable security environment’ in which both Russia and NATO adhered to the CFE treaty and OSCE Vienna Document confidence-and-security-building-measure regimes. Russia’s de facto abrogation of CFE and apparent refusals to adhere to its Vienna Document commitments to promote transparency of its exercises and force mobilisations were most definitely not foreseen by NATO when the Act was concluded. Both the CFE and the Vienna Document regimes were intended to serve as canaries in the coal mine, warning of early moves by any signatory towards a more hostile footing relative to other signatories. NATO leaders must accordingly recognise the deliberate messages sent by the Kremlin’s unilateral dismantling of these reciprocal reassurance mechanisms for what they are.

An additional source feeding the Alliance’s reluctance to establish a more sizeable and capable forward conventional deterrent may be the view that the Kremlin’s leaders are increasingly paranoid about NATO’s intentions. If this is in fact the case, then the Russians are hardly helping themselves by walking away from the CFE regime. If ever there were a Russian doubt regarding the purpose or scale of a particular NATO deployment or exercise, the allowances in the CFE regime for intrusive on-demand inspections could have put Moscow’s concerns to rest. And if Russia wanted to forestall NATO deployments or posture changes in Eastern Europe, then allowing NATO those same inspection courtesies would have been of mutual benefit.

Indeed, as its next step, the Alliance would be wise to assert to Russia that larger deployments of conventional forces along the Eastern European frontier would become unnecessary if Russia and NATO were to conclude a new conventional-arms-control regime establishing verifiable force ceilings in various border regions, stringent exercise-notification and transparency measures, and intrusive on-demand inspection allowances – all under a reaffirmed mutual commitment to the Helsinki Final Act’s security principles. As a means of incentivising Russia to take such an opening seriously and not slow roll negotiations if they were initiated, assuming the Kremlin was politically disposed to do so, the Alliance could declare a dual-track strategy in which negotiations of a new conventional-arms-control regime would proceed while the Alliance simultaneously and incrementally enhanced its permanent force presence in Eastern Europe along the lines proposed in our Survival article. If the Kremlin is serious about ending the cycle of destabilisation of the past two years and establishing a new reciprocal security architecture for Europe, then this NATO gambit would provide it with a major opportunity for doing so.

If, however, Russian leaders’ strategic aims are in fact fundamentally revisionist and in opposition to the Helsinki principles, then their refusal of conventional-arms-control cooperation in Europe would serve as a strong signal of their intentions that NATO’s leaders – and publics – could not rationally ignore. The political foundation would therefore be prepared within the Alliance to complete the full scale of forward force deployments and posture configurations necessary for establishing a truly credible conventional deterrent.

Jonathan Solomon is a senior systems and technology analyst at Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc., and the author, with Elbridge Colby, of the article 'Facing Russia: Conventional Deterrence and Defence in Europe' in the December 2015–January 2016 issue of Survival.

Erik Jones: Democracy without solidarity

There will never be a good and solid constitution unless the law reigns over the hearts of the citizens; as long as the power of legislation is insufficient to accomplish this, laws will always be evaded.’ Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1772

You can have the best political institutions in the world, but if the people who live within them do not want to use them properly, then those institutions will not work. The challenge is to make people want to use common institutions properly and to agree on what constitutes proper use. This is the challenge that Jean-Jacques Rousseau tackled in his ‘Considerations on the Government of Poland and on its Proposed Reformation’. It is the same challenge advanced industrial democracies face today, at all levels of government. Moreover, better institutions or ‘structural reforms’ were not the answer for Rousseau and they are not the answer now: ‘Although it is easy, if you wish, to make better laws, it is impossible to make them such that the passions of men will not abuse them as they abused the laws that preceded them.’

When I listen to politicians like Wolfgang Schäuble or Jeroen Dijsselbloem, respectively German and Dutch finance ministers, talk about ‘moral hazard’ and the need for everyone to ‘follow the rules’, I can see immediately that they have not understood the problem that people first have to believe in the rules. And when I hear about politicians like the late German chancellor Helmut Schmidt deriding the need for political vision, saying things like 'people who have visions should see a doctor', then I know we are in trouble. People have to want to follow rules or they will find a way around them. People only want to follow rules if they believe those rules are fair and just; they also have to believe that following the rules is useful. Moreover, ‘following the rules’ restricts freedom and requires discipline. This means that people have to have some justification for collective action and common sacrifice.

When you add this all up – fairness, justice, effectiveness, purpose – you come up with a pretty complicated set of ideas that people need to receive and accept if they are to make institutions function. Maybe ‘vision’ is not the most appropriate metaphor to describe this requirement to explain why politics works the way it does, particularly in a democratic system. ’Ideology’ is probably even more uncomfortable in the modern vernacular. But whatever we call it, we need to come up with some way to get people to believe they are all part of a bigger project. Democracy without solidarity does not work.

Examples of democracy suffering from a lack of solidarity are all around us. As someone who spent a long time studying Belgian politics, my first instinct is to point to the 550 days during which the New Flemish Alliance complicated efforts by the country’s elites to form a government. That crisis only ended when the pressure in government bond markets was intense enough to focus attention on the very bad things that would happen if events spiralled out of control. The debate that took place in the United States Congress over the debt ceiling during the summer of 2011 is another illustration. But as we look more deeply into the functioning of the two Houses of Congress over the past few years, it is easy to see that the debt-ceiling debate is just the tip of the iceberg. As Thomas Mann and Norman Orenstein describe it, the US political system is ‘even worse than it looks’.

The Belgian and US examples show two aspects of the pattern. One is the argument about legitimacy. This is where politicians or protestors claim that the current arrangement is unfair, unjust, ineffective or headed in the wrong direction. Here you can think of just about any stump speech by Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage or Beppe Grillo. Clearly, these speeches resonate with some part of the electorate. Depending upon the country, you can usually mobilise between 15 and 25 percent of the vote around the general message of disenchantment; in some cases the appeal is even broader.

The second aspect is how the message translates into action. This is the part I try to capture with ‘solidarity’ (and its absence). When solidarity weakens or diminishes, people start breaking rules or reinterpreting them in ways that exaggerate the worst features of any institutional arrangement. They begin using exclusive (or offensive) speech patterns, which they justify as a break from the confines of ‘political correctness’. They start dividing the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’. And they find ways to hold the functioning of institutions hostage until their specific concerns are addressed. Such actions are standard practice for Beppe Grillo’s ‘Five Star Movement’ in Italy, but they are also what brought Ted Cruz such notoriety when he entered the US Senate (following UK Independence Party MEP Nigel Farage’s playbook from the European Parliament).

Unfortunately, democratic institutions are not very good at channelling or constraining this kind of disruptive behaviour. On the contrary, democracy thrives in a context where speech is free and institutions operate under ‘checks and balances’. This is the perfect environment for a loss of solidarity to spark a crisis of governance and yet we risk losing the essence of democracy whenever we try to use new rules to proscribe such unruly behaviour. It is a delicate and difficult balance – as you can see by looking at countries like Hungary, Poland and Turkey.

The balance is even harder to find when you look at federal countries or multinational arrangements. It is no accident that the two clearest examples of the problem we face (Belgium and the United States) are both federal countries. But the implications for the European Union are even more dramatic. In the end, I do not see a scenario where the United States collapses into a collection of smaller political units. Even Belgium is showing significant resilience and the New Flemish Alliance is participating in the federal government without demanding further devolution of power to Flanders (for now).

By contrast, the European Union is facing an existential crisis. The knee-jerk European response is always more rules, better enforcement, and structural reform. These are good responses in many situations. Unfortunately, this is not one of them. Too many Europeans do not believe that the rules are just or fair, they do not understand the need for collective sacrifice (or that the sacrifice is truly ‘collective’), and they do not think the solutions being offered are going to be effective. You can see this in debates about macroeconomic policy, financial regulation, migration and the single market. You can see this in the language that is being used to divide Europe into north and south, east and West, creditor and debtor. And you can see that both protest groups (including anti-European parties) and national governments are starting to use the institutions of Europe to jam up the process of governance until they get what they want for themselves.

Europe as a whole is not a democracy but it shares many democratic strengths and weaknesses. Free speech, freedom of assembly, and institutional checks and balances are at the top of both lists. The collapse of solidarity in Europe is threatening to break the union into pieces. If Europe’s politicians don’t start focusing their attention on coming up with an argument to explain how Europeans are all in this together, why they need to work with one another, and where this great project is going, then they will have to live with the consequences of their inaction. This is what David Cameron promised when he raised the whole prospect of a national debate on Europe in his Bloomberg speech. Unfortunately, that conversation has deteriorated into a debate about details rather than focusing on the big picture. National politicians need to tell the big story about Europe if they are to capture ‘the hearts of the citizens’, in Rousseau’s turn of phrase. Whether we call that a ‘vision’, an ‘ideal’, or an ‘ideology’ is less important than winning the argument about Europe’s importance. The same is true for democracy itself.

This blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones (@Erik_Jones_SAIS) is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University, and a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Encouraging Arab detente with Iran

At an IISS–Americas event jointly organised and hosted by the US–UAE Business Council on 24 February, I argued that the economic benefits to Iran from the accord over its nuclear programme will, over time, make it a less hostile nation.

As I have previously written, the desire for sanctions relief as soon as possible incentivised Iran to carry out its initial requirements under the nuclear deal, termed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), quicker than most foreign observers thought possible. Finishing it up by mid-January and then striking two other deals on detainees and impounded assets gave President Hassan Rouhani’s government and supporters bragging rights prior to the 26 February elections for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts.

Iranian business with the Western world will not resume quickly. European banks remain cautious about handling transactions with Iran, even those that seem clearly legitimate, lest they fall foul of remaining US sanctions and the fining authority of various US jurisdictions, including not just the US Treasury but also local prosecutors in Manhattan. 

Iran is getting access to unfrozen revenues from oil sales, however. And even though the amount is less than $50 billion – far less than the $150bn figure trumpeted by fact-averse US presidential candidates – it provides immediate help to the Iranian economy. 

To keep the money flowing from new oil sales and to encourage the additional trade and investment it seeks, Iran has a strong incentive to faithfully implement the nuclear deal. Only if new sanctions were imposed that blocked these economic benefits would Iran have reason to break the deal and resume its march toward a quick nuclear-weapons break-out capability. Whoever moves into the White House next January 20 would be foolish to give Iran such an excuse without good cause.  

It is legitimate to ask whether Iran’s ongoing missile development or regional meddling would give such cause. The claim is sometimes made, for example, that Iran has been emboldened by the deal to flex its muscles in the region. For the most part, however, this muscle flexing pre-dates the JCPOA.

Iran’s recent missile tests, while probably not a violation of the current Security Council resolution, which gives Iran arguable leeway on missiles that are not necessarily designed for nuclear-weapons delivery, are particularly worrisome to Iran’s neighbours. In Gulf states there are rumours that President Barack Obama wants to visit Iran before he leaves office. Such a visit is fanciful, unless it were to be tied to a significant ‘deliverable’, such as Iranian agreement to limit its missile tests, something that also seems unlikely.  

With regard to Iran’s regional activities, there is a tendency for exaggeration. Ever since the 1979 Revolution, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been seen as a revisionist actor, exporting its revolution, supporting terrorist groups and seeking to dominate its region. But while the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) still foments trouble, the paradigm is shifting, as Jane Kinninmont writes. In Yemen and Lebanon, Iran continues to support rebels and non-state actors, albeit not as the instigator of trouble in the former. In Syria and Iraq, on the other hand, Iran plays a conservative role, struggling to prop up existing regimes and casting itself as the defender of order, improbable as that may seem.

At a recent IISS workshop with security experts from Iran and GCC states, there was general agreement that reaching the nuclear deal was important. Participants differed, however, in their assessment of its potential impact in other areas. While Iranian participants were optimistic that the deal would stimulate future cooperation on regional issues, Arab participants generally viewed the JCPOA as just ‘buying time’ before Iran resumes a drive in 15 years for nuclear-weapons capabilities. And at that point, Iran will be stronger economically and militarily.

I also worry about Iran’s nuclear capabilities when the JCPOA limits come off. It is therefore vital that the next 15 years not be wasted. Concerted efforts are needed to induce Iran to become a better neighbour. The deal can help, because every year that it is faithfully implemented will help to create trust that the nuclear programme is peaceful.

The troubles in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon will be hard to resolve without first overcoming the enmity between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Reconciliation will likely be harder for the Saudis, who view Iran as an existential threat, given its larger population, economy and size in addition to its threatening rhetoric and adventurism. Iranians do not have a mirror image of Saudi Arabia. They may not like or respect the kingdom, but they do not fear it. Iran is thus more ready to compromise on Yemen and to reach a modus vivendi with respect to Lebanon. While Alawite-controlled Syria is deemed to be vital, Iran should be able to manage differences regarding Iraq and Bahrain.  

For the United States, upholding the JCPOA will help foster conditions that would allow for Iran-Saudi detente. Firstly, economic improvement will enhance the relative power of Rouhani and other pragmatists. Secondly, as Richard Nephew argues, to the extent that Iran feels less isolated and more secure, it is more likely to take a constructive approach to regional issues.

It was not expected that the JCPOA would bring quick changes to Iran’s behaviour at home or abroad. Supporters of the deal anticipated, rather, that the regime would continue to be a dangerous and repressive. Hardliners would fight back to try to keep Rouhani from becoming too powerful. Over time, though, and probably in the span of the 15-year JCPOA, generational and social transitions are coming to the Islamic Republic.

There will be ups and downs, and tensions could get worse. The key, as Nephew put it, is to ensure that Iran understands that, while it has a place in the region, it will not be permitted to dominate. Washington must demonstrate that it will not abandon its partners or interests in the Middle East, or its values. While firmly pushing back on IRGC meddling, the US should meanwhile encourage its partners to seek detente. 

Mark Fitzpatrick (@FitzpatrickIISS) is Executive Director of IISS–Americas. His article ‘Iran: A Good Deal’ appeared in the October–November 2015 issue of Survival.

Dana H. Allin: Out of New Hampshire, and out of control?

In late 2010, the writer Peter Beinart compared the expanding Tea Party conquest of the Republican Party to what had happened to Democrats after Vice President Hubert Humphrey lost narrowly to Richard Nixon in 1968. ‘[B]etween 1968 and 1972, grassroots activists—many of them incubated in the anti-war movement—took over the Democratic Party, state by state. In 1970, activists rewrote Michigan’s party platform so that it advocated reparations to North Vietnam. In Washington state, they demanded amnesty for draft evaders and a ban on the building of missiles.’ George McGovern, the Democratic nominee in 1972, was really a conventional, Midwestern liberal in the mould of Humphrey – and a Second World War hero to boot – but he was driven left by the zeal of this movement and his own anger about the truly senseless war in Vietnam. My own most vivid memory of the campaign is how the McGovern team lost operational control of the Democratic nominating convention; the candidate had to deliver his acceptance speech well after midnight. Nixon, running for re-election, trounced the hapless Democrat, who lost every state except Massachusetts

Riding anger at Barack Obama’s election and re-election, the Tea Party has advanced impressively in Congress, with the elections of very right-wing representatives and senators including Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. But it has proven an inadequate vessel to contain the anger – fear and loathing, really – which has now metastasised into the phenomenon of Donald Trump. Republican leaders, to their credit, are genuinely dismayed by Trump’s reckless demagoguery, which could further poison America’s already polarised politics and ruin the country’s reputation. But they are also worried about his heterodox opinions, which are attracting lower-middle-class whites who resent multi-racial liberalism but who also are unmoved by conventional conservative orthodoxies: low marginal tax rates; a diminished welfare state; unfettered free markets including free trade; and, at least implicitly, a large supply of cheap immigrant labour. Marco Rubio, with his strong third place in Iowa, seemed like the conventional conservative who could defeat Trump and run a credible campaign against Hillary Clinton. But Rubio suffered a humiliating meltdown during Saturday’s Republican debate, seeming to confirm whispered rumours about his un-readiness; he took fifth place in New Hampshire behind Trump, John Kasich, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush, and it’s not clear that he can recover.

Trump’s populist victory was matched, of course, by the populist triumph of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side. There are varieties of populism, and I personally find the Sanders version more attractive. If anything, however, it is less viable as a political project. If Trump were to become president, unlikely but not impossible, he almost certainly would preside over Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress, and the only obstacle to legislation would be his ability to reach a coherent consensus with those majorities. A President Sanders, as I wrote last week, would face implacable opposition from at least a Republican House of Representatives. A President Sanders remains unlikely, even less likely than a President Trump. Sanders did well in two states – Iowa and New Hampshire – that play to his strengths because their Democrats are overwhelmingly white and relatively left wing. The contest moves on now to states where Hillary Clinton can draw on strong black and Hispanic support. She sounded rousing and confident in her concession speech last night. Still, her campaign must be – at least should be – unnerved by the revolt of left-leaning youth, who, like their long-haired parents (and grandparents!) in 1969, are uninterested in lectures about electoral viability. Democratic leaders must have at least a faint worry that their party, like the Republican Party, is out of control.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Dana H. Allin: Sanders and Trump

Donald Trump won the Nevada caucus last night by a 20-point margin. Polls show that he is likely to triumph in the 12 states and one territory holding their contests together on ‘Super Tuesday’ next week. If that happens, he won’t be unstoppable in the Republican nomination campaign, but it is not easy to see how he will be stopped.

Something big and dark is happening in American politics. Parallels have been drawn to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ left–populist insurgency in the Democratic primary contest against Hillary Clinton. I have written about Sanders’ lack of realism and there are, to be sure, deep currents of unrest across the ideological spectrum – a sociological phenomenon to which I will return in later reflections.

Before falling for any kind of lazy symmetry, however, it is worth remembering what these respective rabble-rousers are actually saying. Trump excited his crowd last week with a speech containing the (almost certainly invented) story that General John Pershing dealt with an early twentieth-century rebellion in the Philippines by lining up 50 Muslim insurgents, dipping bullets in pigs’ blood, and shooting 49 of them. The Sanders version of this war-crime advocacy is … free education in state universities.

Also, Trump is winning, while Sanders is very likely to lose.

Dana Allin is Editor of Survival, and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Matthew Harries: To keep Britain in the EU, avoid the Emma Thompson trap

The idea that Britain matters is something that matters to the British. In fact, it is an idea that might take Britain out of the European Union. When the actor Emma Thompson joked that she came from a tiny, ‘misery-laden, cake-filled’ island, she made the front page of the Sun. Britons, self-deprecating or not, do not like being made to feel small, and the notion that it is the UK that needs the EU, rather than the other way around, sometimes goes down very badly.

The post-imperial decline of Britain from great power to well-armed economic light-heavyweight is a truth that can be spoken only in certain contexts. It is the reality that shapes UK defence and foreign policy, yet adjustment to material decline is only acceptable if it denies any reduction in status. ‘Britain’s national interest requires us to reject any notion of the shrinkage of our influence’, insisted the 2010 national-security strategy, as if shrinkage could be prevented so long as it was not admitted. Meanwhile, the defence review of the same year, conducted by a government committed to fierce cuts in public spending, shrank Britain’s effective military firepower by some 20% or more.

An acceptance of smallness implicitly defines the biggest diplomatic initiative of the current Conservative government: the economic opening to China. Guided by Chancellor George Osborne it is a pitch that subordinates geopolitical independence to economic necessity. China’s market for British services and its ready cash for infrastructure investment, along with the prospect of London becoming the global centre for trading in the renminbi, are the prize. The price appears to be a softer tone on Chinese assertiveness in the East and South China seas, human rights abuses, Hong Kong and Tibet, and living with Chinese participation in sensitive national projects, such as the building of new nuclear reactors.

Osborne’s gamble is rooted in cold self-assessment: a country of Britain’s economic profile needs what China has to offer, and needs it badly enough that freedom of action in foreign policy may have to suffer. And, after all, when hard foreign-policy interests are truly on the line, Britain may yet muster the nerve to stand up.  But, for the moment, it looks and feels ugly. The UK rolled out the red carpet for President Xi Jinping on the day that Tata Steel announced 1,200 British job losses, blaming cheap Chinese imports. The ingratiating ceremony of Xi’s visit earned the UK a brief respite from the Chinese Global Timesmockery of Britain as an old-Europe mausoleum fit only for tourism and to house overseas students.

The UK’s rumbling debate about its nuclear weapons shows how difficult it can be to speak in frank terms about national smallness. Both sides appear convinced that Britain punches above its weight. Trident’s advocates often overstate the difference a marginal addition of 200-odd British nuclear weapons makes to NATO’s deterrent power, given that the Americans, to whom European allies look ultimately for protection, possess several thousand. But Trident’s opponents tend to suffer from delusions of moral grandeur, believing that disarmament will, through the sheer force of British reasonableness, grease the skids of international negotiations towards a nuclear-free world.

The most plausible trigger for British nuclear disarmament, should it ever happen, is a government’s explicit decision to embrace a different, and probably smaller, role in the structure of international security. Yet even Trident’s most committed opponents generally reach either for moral arguments, or ones of cost and military effectiveness. The national-status argument is politically toxic. Former prime minister Tony Blair, who oversaw the 2007 vote to renew Trident, recalled in his memoirs: 

I could see clearly the force of the common sense and practical argument against Trident, yet in the final analysis I thought giving it up too big a downgrading of our status as a nation and … too big a risk for our defence … As I said to [chancellor Gordon Brown]: imagine standing up in the House of Commons and saying I've decided to scrap it.  We're not going to say that, are we?’

What does this have to do with the British referendum on Europe? The case is already being made that the pro-EU camp needs to make an emotional, passionate appeal in order to compete with the grassroots energy of the Leave campaign. This is supposedly the lesson from the Scottish independence referendum, in which a fired-up nationalist operation ran a cautious, risk-based Unionist campaign close. And it must surely be admitted that the case for Remain has a serious disadvantage in the overwhelming dullness of EU affairs.

The need for an uplifting emotional narrative may be overstated. Scotland stayed in the Union, after all, and the conventional (though not unchallenged) wisdom has it that negative campaigning works. But there is nevertheless a trap here, which Emma Thompson fell into and which the Remain campaign must avoid. Leaving aside the political and social importance of a healthy Europe, Britain’s economic interest in remaining part of the EU stems, to put it bluntly, from its own national smallness. The UK could not credibly hope, as a single state, to negotiate its way to the same favourable conditions it enjoys as an EU member. But the EU’s supporters will have to make this argument carefully.

The emotional pull of British euroscepticism, at least on the right, is fundamentally about British power – specifically, restoring power supposedly ceded to Brussels. A case for the EU that talks down the UK’s influence, accurately or not, plays into its opponents’ hands. The Remain campaign may not need a vision of hope and change, but it does need to speak the language of British strength.

Matthew Harries (@harries_matthew) is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS.

Elizabeth Pond: Gunfight at the Ukraine Corral

2016 promises to be a decisive year for Ukraine. The sudden resignation on 3 February of Economics Minister Aivaras Abromavicius – and the immediate sharp fall of Ukraine's sovereign bonds – suggest that the showdown is at hand, much sooner than expected.

The country faces a stark choice. Its second civil-society uprising in a decade could dissolve into infighting among oligarchs, as the first one did. Or, with the help of its free-trade and association agreements with the European Union that finally entered into force on 1 January – along with Washington's newfound interest in diplomatic engagement – it could at last begin to enact the reforms needed to consolidate its fledgling democracy.

The departure of Abromavicius, one of Ukraine's leading technocrat reformers, was in response to what he said was pressure from Ihor Kononenko, the deputy head of President Petro Poroshenko's parliamentary faction, to name his own lieutenants as Abromavicius's deputy and as head of a major state-owned enterprise. The economics minister said in a statement that he had 'no wish to be a cover for open corruption or puppets under the control of those who want to establish control over state money in the style of the old authorities'.

The key deciders now will be the Ukrainian oligarchs, who have shunned state-building in the past and concentrated instead on funding and controlling the evanescent political parties that operate as clientelistic personal networks. The deciding issue will be the reform of the kleptocracy that remains not just a parasite on governance but, as in Russia, the very driver of post-Soviet systems of neo-feudal governance.

The oligarchs left at the top of the heap after two years of Russian President Vladimir Putin's undeclared war on Ukraine are President Poroshenko and Dnipropetrovsk baron Ihor Kolomoisky. Poroshenko is the sixth-richest Ukrainian, with an estimated wealth of just under $1 billion, according to Kiev's Novoye Vremya. From the beginning, he has supported the 2013–14 'Euromaidan' protests against authoritarian rule and their demands for a shift from East Slav fraternity with Russia to a new European identity. He was elected president of embattled Ukraine by 55% in first-round voting in May 2014, when memories of the shooting of a group of protestors known as the 'Heavenly Hundred' by the special police of then-president Victor Yanukovich in February, and the disgraced president's subsequent flight to Russia, were still fresh.

Poroshenko's rival for power is oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, the second-richest Ukrainian, with an estimated wealth of just under $2bn. He returned from his Swiss residence to become the official governor of his personal stronghold of Dnipropetrovsk just as Putin was completing the annexation of Crimea in March 2014. He was the most lavish benefactor in 2014 of the volunteer militias that held off the vastly better-armed Russian/separatist troops in and near the Donbass until the ragtag Ukrainian army could be reconstituted following its budgetary strangulation under Yanukovich. According to the New York Times, a deal was made at that point promising oligarchs that they could keep their wealth if they remained loyal to Ukraine.

At present, both men are too weak to knock the other out. Poroshenko won their first public duel in March 2015, when he fired Kolomoisky from his political post as Dnipropetrovsk governor after the latter, along with 40 or 50 armed men, burst into the headquarters of the 51% state-owned UkrTransNafta pipeline firm in Kiev to try to reinstate a dismissed CEO who was allied to him. That clash paralleled efforts to bring volunteer militias under the aegis of Ukraine's official armed forces and helped to establish in the 25-year-young state of Ukraine, at least in principle, the Weberian precept that a state must have a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force.

Their second public brawl was more of a draw. Last October, a 500-man SWAT team detained Hennadiy Korban, Kolomoisky's deputy in Dnipropetrovsk and head of Kolomoisky's newly established pro-Ukrainian Dill Party (as distinct from his newly established pro-Russian Renaissance Party). Korban was first jailed on suspicion of kidnapping and embezzlement. He was released three days later, then consigned to house arrest, then to custody in a hospital, where he underwent surgery. Little has been heard about him since. Poroshenko supporters see the detention as a sign of the president's seriousness about fighting corruption and organised crime. Kolomoisky supporters see it as a political vendetta.

For the sake of Ukraine’s democratic evolution, the relative lull in fighting in the Donbass (Putin dialled down the violence in September, turning his attention to Syria) is good news. This gives Kiev the breathing space to continue with urgently needed economic, administrative and legal reforms. Unlike mainstream Western analysts, who continued to warn for months that the lull in eastern Ukraine was only a tactical trick, the Ukrainians sensed instantly that Putin was finally retreating from his Ukrainian quagmire.

The lowered intensity of fighting is also bad news for democratic prospects, however, as the respite from Russian pressure has freed Poroshenko and Kolomoisky from their two-year compulsion to hang together in order to avoid hanging separately. It has allowed them to resume power struggles in redistributing the assets of declining oligarchs and stiffened their resistance to the uprooting of endemic corruption that might conceivably redound upon themselves.  

This shift in atmosphere has triggered fear among reformers that today's 'Revolution of Dignity' might repeat the failure of the pioneering Orange Revolution, the leaders of which, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and President Victor Yushchenko, quarrelled bitterly after attaining power. Their mutual hostility paralysed the government, alienated voters, and delivered the presidency to old-regime Victor Yanukovich in a reasonably fair election in 2010.

The fears of Euromaidan activists are compounded by concern over popular-reform fatigue and the populism that caters to it. MPs from the new Self Reliance party and Tymoshenko's Fatherland party, among others, are manoeuvring to call a vote of non-confidence in the government and force early parliamentary elections in the spring that would favour their parties. A snap vote only a year and a half after the first post-Yanukovych election would certainly add turmoil and weaken the main parliamentary reform parties, those of President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Reforms such as hikes in consumer prices (even with offsetting subsidies for Ukraine’s poorest citizens) have reached the point of stirring up the greatest discontent, and public-approval ratings have now sunk to 25% for Poroshenko and 12% (some polls say only 2%) for Yatsenyuk. Meanwhile, a full 70% of Ukrainians think their country's general situation is getting worse. Even now, Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk are unable to muster the two-thirds parliamentary majority that the constitution requires to approve key decentralisation measures in eastern Ukraine that are needed to keep the German- and French-sponsored 'Minsk' peace process on course.

Reformers hope to avert a regression to oligarchic business as usual by getting the West to apply pressure for enforcing last year's raft of anti-graft legislation and to offer incentives by granting Ukrainians visa-free travel to the EU. This would reprise the EU’s approach to the 11 post-communist Central European states that were eventually permitted to partake of the peace and prosperity of Western Europe’s premier club of nations following the Cold War. To accelerate domestic evolution toward good governance in these countries, Brussels mixed the top-down co-option of local elites with the bottom-up fostering of proto-democratic civil society in what a Swiss-initiated interdisciplinary study has called functional cooperation.   

Implementing this reform process in Central Europe was hard enough. Attempting to do so in Ukraine, which has had little exposure to western European democratic culture, and without even offering the lure of eventual EU membership this time around, presents an even greater challenge. Nevertheless, such reform remains a hope of the robust Euromaidan movement spawned by the 2013–14 protests in Kiev.

Indeed, the tacit partnership between the EU and Ukrainian reformers has already begun its work. Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko drums in the message at every opportunity that Ukraine will not attract Western investors unless it cleans up its act. Young MPs in Poroshenko's party, such as former investigative journalists Mustafa Nayyem and Serhiy Leshchenko, make incriminating documents public to name and shame officials as they find evidence of corruption and political blockage of criminal prosecution and judicial lustration. NGOs such as Kiev's Centre of Legal and Political Reform press the case for dismissing Chief Prosecutor Viktor Shokin, a holdover from the old regime's procuracy who was promoted to the top by Poroshenko and who is now seen by many as the main obstacle to investigation and indictments in high-level corruption cases. When reformers like these run into a brick wall, the EU applies conditionality, informing Kiev that the introduction of visa-free travel for Ukrainians to Europe will be postponed until Kiev's proclaimed anti-corruption drive actually starts putting senior offenders behind bars. American officials such as US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt and Vice President Joe Biden have also joined the fight by exerting public pressure on President Poroshenko to start implementing anti-graft legislation by firing Shokin. On 3 February, 10 ambassadors, among them those of the US, Canada and the EU, signed a bluntly worded public statement saying, 'We are deeply disappointed by the resignation of ... Abromavicius who has attained true results of reforms in Ukraine'.

So far, this double-pronged campaign has manifestly failed to persuade Poroshenko to replace Shokin, whose influence derives both from the wide competences vested in the chief prosecutor under the patched-up constitution and from Shokin's personal memory of skeletons in political closets. But Shokin's tenure, along with the wrestling match between Economics Minister Abromavicius and the Western underwriters of Ukraine's financial bailout on one side and President Poroshenko and Kolomoisky on the other, pose the most immediate test of what Tomas Fiala, CEO of Kiev's Dragon Capital, has called Ukraine’s much-needed 'deoligarchization'.

Having invested so much political and monetary capital into saving Ukraine from Putin's assault, the EU in particular has a huge stake in the outcome. Besides wielding the stick of conditionality –with the implicit threat that ultimately some tranches of this year's $40bn of pledged international aid might be held back in case of serious breaches of agreed programmes – the EU will be sending a corps of on-the-ground advisers to Ukraine to help with everything from small-business promotion to political-party formation to rule-of-law basics.

There are no guarantees. Even this massive Western engagement and functional cooperation with Euromaidan activists in building a new, European Ukraine could well get ground down by the stubborn inertia of the country's kleptocracy. If this happens, the country’s reformers are unlikely to get a third chance to clean up Ukraine’s economy and politics for a very long time.

Elizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based journalist and author. She has contributed several articles to Survival, most recently ‘Will Ukraine Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory?’, in vol. 57, no. 6, December–January 2015, pp. 59–68.

Dana H. Allin: Iowa and theories of politics

If the metric is which party at least marginally improved its chances of winning the presidency next November, then Republicans had a better night in Iowa. They improved their chances not because Texas Senator Ted Cruz beat Donald Trump for first place in the Iowa caucus – both men constitute prima facie electoral disasters for the GOP – but because of the strong third place showing of Senator Marco Rubio.

Young, Hispanic, well-spoken – Rubio looks like the computer-generated model of what the Republicans need to counter their demographic problem as the party of aging whites in a rapidly diversifying America. Given their nightmare of a primary campaign so far, Rubio’s achievement of almost beating Trump for second place is the first good news for a party establishment that desperately wants to wrest the contest back from Trump’s demagogic insurgency and Cruz’s absolutism.

This is not to say that the Democrats’ virtual tie was a bad outcome for Hillary Clinton. Dispatching Senator Bernie Sanders would have felt better, but would not have solved a big Clinton problem, which is a kind of uneasy feeling that she has been anointed as Democratic nominee without enough competition to test and improve her political performance.

She is now going to have to fight at least somewhat longer. Sanders, from neighbouring Vermont, is the heavy favourite to win the New Hampshire primary next week. But Iowa and New Hampshire are unusual states, much whiter and, in the odd case of Iowa, at the same time more liberal, among Democrats, and more conservative, among Republicans, than the country at large.

Sanders’s pitch highlights another problem for Clinton. She is running for Obama’s third term. This is always difficult – ask Al Gore – but in the current polarised America it means something very specific and, for Sanders’s youthful supporters, quite dispiriting. Hers is a not-very-glamorous promise to defend the significant but reversible gains of the Obama presidency. These include the nuclear agreement with Iran, Obamacare and environmental regulations that put the United States in a position to meet its Paris commitments for international action to avoid the most catastrophic scenarios of climate change. These are hugely important, and Clinton the realist argues that it will be a tough enough fight to defend them.

Sanders, the self-styled democratic socialist, says it’s not enough. He is calling not for defending hard-fought gains but for transforming the US into a Scandinavian-style welfare state, with single-payer national health insurance, free university education and pledging to launch an assault on the political privileges of the very wealthy that he sees driving massive disparities of income and wealth.

His theory of politics for how this will transpire is, in a word, preposterous. He believes in a voter-driven political revolution, but how – in the unlikely event of his election as president – he would get any legislation through what is sure to remain a Republican-controlled House of Representatives is not explained by his theory.

Here is one – but really only one – point of comparison with Cruz, the winner of the Republican caucus. Cruz is literally despised by fellow Republican senators, and other elites, for a number of reasons, but prominent among them was volcanic posturing that played to angry conservatives’ ignorance about the constitutional limits to enacting a right-wing agenda when the President of the United States is a liberal Democrat.

Ironically, however, that right-wing enactment could be within reach, and it probably doesn’t matter whether the candidate is Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. Both are running on a promise to repeal Obamacare, abandon the nuclear agreement, and end the new regulations on carbon emissions. Now, taking away the health insurance from millions of Americans who have no alternative might seem politically daunting. Abandoning a nuclear deal to which American allies and partners are firmly committed would be diplomatically daunting. But there is pent-up conservative demand to do these things, campaign promises are usually a good guide to a new president’s agenda, and if Republicans win the White House they will almost certainly hold on to both houses of Congress. Last night’s caucus was the first test of a significant election.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Erik Jones: Obama’s Last State of the Union

Leadership through partnership works; democracy without solidarity does not. These are two of the central arguments Barack Obama makes in his eighth and final State of the Union address as president of the United States. The first argument builds on the premise that the United States cannot lead by trying to do everything itself; it has to make sure ‘other countries pull their own weight’. The second rests on the idea that ‘democracy does require the basic bonds of trust between its citizens.’ Isolated like this, these claims seem self-evident. In the context of a US presidential election, they are controversial. Indeed, American presidential candidates have been fighting over these issues at least since Barack Obama rose to political prominence. This explains in large measure why the United States is so conflicted over the conduct of its foreign policy and so polarised in its domestic political discourse.

Think back to 2004. George W. Bush was incumbent president; John Kerry was his Democratic opponent. And Barack Obama was a state senator from Illinois invited to address the Democratic National Convention. Obama gave a keynote speech that in many ways overshadowed the one that Kerry gave in accepting the nomination. The argument Obama made was that: ‘alongside our famous individualism, there is another ingredient in the American saga: a belief we are connected as one people’. This is the passage that introduced Obama’s claim that the American people are not divided by ideology or ethnicity, they are united in their reliance on self-initiative as underpinned by limited government. Nevertheless, Obama admitted, political operatives see advantage in dividing up the electorate and pitting one group against another. This analysis proved more insightful than Obama’s calls for hope to triumph over cynicism. Bush went on to defeat Kerry in a polarising and divisive election.

That 2004 campaign was a rarity insofar as it focused on national security. Most US presidential elections turn on the state of the domestic economy. And it was in the domain of foreign policy that the argument about leadership through partnership became important. To understand this point it is necessary to accept that no serious contender for the office of the president can deny the inevitability of US global leadership. A few candidates like Ron Paul can insist that the United States should retreat from its global role, and yet they are the exceptions that prove the rule. Candidates who aspire to win the office are restricted to debating the meaning of global leadership. And Kerry learned quickly that his room for interpretation was limited. He argued that true leadership is when you persuade your allies of the correctness of your policies and so convince them to support your objectives. Bush countered that leadership is doing what you think is right no matter what others might believe; if that means going it alone, then so be it. The media jumped on Kerry for giving foreigners an implicit veto over America’s pursuit of its own national interest – the ‘global test’ is what they called Kerry’s definition of leadership. Exit pollsters say the voters agreed with this assessment; although many foreign observers found it hard to imagine, Bush attracted more confidence (and votes) for his conduct of foreign policy.

Less than three years later, Obama was a candidate for the Democratic nomination. The factor that differentiated him from the frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, was his staunch opposition to the Iraq War launched by the first George W. Bush administration. Obama built on this record by fleshing out a foreign policy based on comprehensive engagement. He promised to rely heavily on diplomacy; he would even talk with long-term enemies like Cuba and Iran. Obama also built a massive campaign organisation around the idea of using hope to counter cynicism. He promised change that would unite all Americans so that the United States could lead by the example of its politics. This strategy was not immediately successful. Clinton argued that Obama was naive to want to speak with foreign dictators; they would only manipulate him for propaganda victories and so create an impression of American weakness. Both Clinton and, later, Republican nominee John McCain argued that Obama used words like ‘hope’ to mask his uniquely elitist form of cynicism. McCain’s campaign ran an ad underscoring Obama’s global ‘celebrity’ and McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, used her folksy manner to mock Obama’s ‘hopey-changey thing’. When Russia invaded Georgia, the idea of using diplomacy sounded like weakness and equivocation. The race tightened until the sudden onset of economic crisis gave Obama a decisive advantage.

The next seven years have seen Obama return to the themes of leadership through partnership and democracy with solidarity time and again. His success in winning the argument has been partial at best. Often events have conspired against his initiatives. For example, Obama’s opening to the Muslim world through successive speeches in Ankara and Cairo was eclipsed by the Arab Spring. His attempts to create a dialogue with Iran appeared even less successful. Neither the ‘reset’ with Russia nor the ‘pivot’ to Asia had the desired effect. Nevertheless, Obama remained true to the understanding of US global leadership that he inherited from Kerry. He has pushed for engagement and relied on diplomacy first. Obama articulated this view most forcefully in the address he gave on 28 March 2011 to explain US involvement in Libya to the American people. This is where he first articulated the view that true leadership involves creating the conditions within which your friends and allies can carry their own weight. It was more successful as an argument than a policy; Obama does not mention Libya in his most recent State of the Union address, probably because the Republicans are using the conduct of US Libya policy to criticise Hillary Clinton’s performance as secretary of state.

Obama’s efforts to promote democracy with solidarity have been even more mixed. The problem is that solidarity means more than just one thing. Where Obama has pursued compromise, he has had to accept increasing inequality in income and opportunity; where he has pursued greater equality, he has faced disciplined partisan opposition. This is not a necessary trade-off in democratic theory; it is something that has mutated within America’s political DNA. If anything, the United States has become more polarised and more divided during the seven years that Obama has been president. Whether his successive administrations have been the cause of that polarisation or just another of its victims is irrelevant. Division is a more central part of the State of the Union now than at any time in recent memory. Hence the real question is what needs to be done to make that situation change.

Obama’s final State of the Union address is important because it is a recommitment to action. He outlines the principles for sustainable US global leadership and he reminds us of the conditions for democratic stability. These things are not self-evident in American politics. On the contrary, they are areas of profound disagreement. Changing that fact is not something that can be done in one or even two presidential administrations. People are slow to abandon their beliefs, particularly when those beliefs correspond with self-interest, and events tend to get in the way. Hence this speech should be read as a call to action that will have to be undertaken over the longer term and on a grassroots basis. What Obama does not mention is that this kind of effort is required across democratic societies, and not just in the United States.

This blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones (@Erik_Jones_SAIS) is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University, and a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. 

Mark Fitzpatrick: The Iran deal shows its worth

Although nothing US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry do passes without vitriol from political opponents, 16 January was a very good day for US-Iranian diplomacy. Most importantly, it was ‘Implementation Day’ for the Iran nuclear accord.  Release of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and four other detained US-Iran dual citizens was an important added bonus. Besides the humanitarian and justice angles, it removes one of the strongest arguments I have heard from ‘heartland’ Americans about why the nuclear deal should not have been limited to the nuclear realm.

Verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran has carried out its initial requirements under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) means that Iran cannot produce weapons-usable fissile material in less than a year, giving ample time for detection. The region and the wider world are safer as a result. The benefits from this outcome having been achieved peacefully cannot be overstated. For the foreseeable future, there is no more prospect of Iran with the bomb or a bombing of Iran that would likely have spurred nuclearisation anyway.

Three nuclear-rollback tasks were key. Dismantlement of the core of the Arak reactor took away the potential plutonium path to nuclear weapons. Removal of 14,000 centrifuges and export of 98% of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium blocked a weapons path via highly enriched uranium. Iran also took other steps in accordance with the JCPOA, including shipping out 40 tonnes of excess heavy water.

Such a rollback of capabilities is relatively rare in arms-control history. Capping of capabilities is more often the norm, such as when states agree not to produce additional fissile material or to conduct additional nuclear tests. In Iran’s case, it kept many of its basic capabilities, putting off by 15 years the right to expand them unhindered. The 14,000 centrifuges removed from Natanz and Fordow, for example, are being kept in storage, for use as replacements in the interim.  Yet they were removed with such speed that many of the machines will have been damaged in the process. The rollback of Iran’s capabilities is thus even greater than what was agreed in the JCPOA.

Iran did not take these steps out of good will, of course.  It desperately sought the sanctions relief that was dependent on it taking these actions. Most immediately, Iran will be able to access about $56bn in impounded oil-sale profits – not the $150bn figure touted by American opponents of the deal. Restrictions on oil sales that were costing $150m/day are removed. All nuclear-related UN and EU sanctions are now lifted, and many US sanctions are suspended.

The sanctions lift comes with strings, however, because most Western businesses will be cautious about resuming business with Iran until they are certain they would not be subject to lingering US penalties. Given the multifarious nature of US sanctions, it will be some time before foreign firms can be so assured. Banks, which have faced the steepest fines, will be among the most cautious.  And the absence of reliable banking channels means other businesses will have no way to repatriate profits.

At a 14 January IISS workshop on the impact of the JCPOA on sanctions, we heard, for example, that because U-turn monetary transactions are still prohibited, business with Iran cannot be carried out in dollars, the currency that underpins the global economy. Foreign subsidiaries of US firms that have any overlapping connection with the home office could also be subject to the prohibitions on US persons doing business with Iran. Only small foreign firms or those based in countries such as Russia that have no connections with the United States will be able to freely conduct business with Iran. But most Iranians do not want to be limited to such markets. They seek Western technology and commercial goods.

The lingering impact of US sanctions may not become apparent for some time. In the meantime, the exuberance that Iranians feel on the announcement of sanctions relief will help stimulate the economy. 

Iranians will also feel happy that seven of their citizens who were convicted by the US or pending trial were offered clemency in exchange for the release of the detained Americans. The implied balance in this ‘prisoner swap’ is distasteful. While the Iranians had been tried in fair and transparent courts for breaking export-control laws, the detained Americans had been detained on trumped-up political charges. And the export-control laws remain in place, even though the nuclear programme for which the procurements were intended is legitimised. Still, it is not a bad price to pay. It also shows that the Iran deal can reap benefits in other areas.

The release of the detained Americans has another bright side in that it shows that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei, is not opposed to efforts to improve US-Iran relations. As Iran’s Guardian Jurist under the Velayat-e-Faqih concept, his approval was necessary to commute the sentences imposed by Iran’s judiciary. 

All aspects of Implementation Day should thus be celebrated. Obama’s critics ought to take a breather for at least one day.

Mark Fitzpatrick (@FitzpatrickIISS) is Executive Director of IISS–Americas. His most recent article for Survival, written after the signing of the Iran nuclear deal, appeared in the October–November 2015 issue. Read ‘Iran: A Good Deal’ here.

Erik Jones: EU in crisis? Blame the single market, not Schengen and the euro

When critics want to explain why the European Union (EU) is in crisis, they usually point to the euro or the Schengen Agreement. These are areas of vital national sovereignty, they argue. A government without a currency cannot preserve its national competitiveness, and has no status as a lender of last resort. A government that cannot monitor its borders cannot stem the flow of illegal workers, criminals and terrorists. There is merit to both of these arguments, but they miss the deeper point. Europe’s problems do not originate in money or migrants; they stem from the single market.

The completion of Europe’s internal market is the crowning achievement of integration; it has done more than anything else to promote peace and prosperity from Iceland to the Baltic states, and from Norway to Turkey. Moreover, as those reference points suggest, the benefits of the internal market extend far beyond the EU itself. To claim that Europe’s crisis originates in the common market is not to detract from Europe’s accomplishments. Any transformation so great is bound to have unintended consequences. In Europe’s case, those consequences are important.

Consider the free movement of capital. European governments chose to liberalise cross-border capital movements in order to foster development and to finance the retirement costs of an ageing population. These motivations appear time and again in official reports associated with building a common market for European financial services, stretching back to the 1980s.

In practical terms, the goal of financing pensions through productive investment meant that Irish and Spanish real estate markets would boom on the back of German and Dutch savings. It also meant that Europe would witness the rapid growth of multinational banking giants like Dexia, Fortis, HBOS and Unicredit. Tiny countries like Cyprus, Iceland, Luxembourg and Malta could find a profitable niche in this new financial environment.

The problem is that capital flowed in all directions, not just from countries with surplus savings into countries looking to finance development. Some of that money moved from poor countries to rich countries; some also left Europe to head across the Atlantic. Worse, even relatively modest flows of cross border investments quickly accumulated in large stocks of assets. The European financial crisis started when the collapse of sub-prime lending in the United States imposed losses on the big European banks. It worsened as European investors switched to focusing on protecting their capital rather than looking for the highest rate of interest. With surprising speed, Europeans liquidated their foreign assets and repatriated their investments.

As European cross-border financial markets disintegrated, national governments struggled to mitigate the damage and prevent a full-blown panic. Whether the existence of the euro made this struggle more difficult is debatable, but it was the functioning of Europe’s internal market that gave rise to these ‘sudden stop’ dynamics. The sudden repatriation of assets not only cut deeply into the total amount of European savings, but also put a halt to financing for development.

Now think about the free movement of labour. Europe has always had cross-border migrants. Otherwise it would not have politicians like Nicolas Sarkozy or Elio Di Rupo. Some mixing is only to be expected on such a small continent. The genius of the internal market is to give cross-border labour flows some kind of structure. This way, money invested in developing skills in one country is not wasted because a person decides to live elsewhere. A Dutch lawyer should not have to stop practicing law just because he or she moves to Spain. The internal market also makes it easier to ensure continuous coverage in terms of healthcare and other benefits. And it helps to create a competitive cross-border market for skilled labour.

The results are not perfect. It is still hard (if not impossible) to consolidate pensions earned in different countries, for example. But the results are better than found in other countries on a number of dimensions. Here you might think of the retraining required for a barber to move from Indiana to Illinois, or a lawyer to move from New York to Texas. Of course there is always some retraining involved in moving from one market to another. The recognition of qualifications only makes life easier, not perfect. Moreover, European labour markets remain inefficient. Here you only need to ask why there is so much more unemployment in Sicily than in Emilia-Romagna. Inefficiency is as much a problem within countries as between them. Nevertheless, the current arrangement is better than the unstructured alternative.

The problem is that some labour markets are more attractive than others to non-nationals. This relative attractiveness could be due to a range of factors. It could be the result of relatively flexible hiring conditions that make it easier for foreign workers to experiment with living in another country. The ease of finding (and leaving) rental accommodation is also potentially important. So is language. There is no inherent reason why an English plumber should not be able to learn Polish; infants in both the United Kingdom and Poland tackle their respective languages with equal vigour. But adults confront a more uneven situation. In contrast to their British counterparts, Polish adults are surrounded by opportunities to hear spoken English, and have incentives to use that English with other native and non-native speakers. This means you are likely to find more Polish students at UK universities than the other way around; you are also likely to find fewer UK workers looking to spend time in Poland than Polish workers looking to experience life in the United Kingdom. Moreover, the advantages that the UK has over Poland are similar to the advantages that the British labour market offers over just about anywhere else in Europe. The presence or absence of border controls is completely unrelated to this imbalance. What matters is access to the labour market.

The challenge for European policymakers is to ‘level the playing field’. That challenge applies across every dimension of the single market, and not just the market for labour. Worse, European policymakers need to distinguish between advantages that are absolute (meaning that they result from some inherently unique feature, such as the ubiquity of the English language but also the location of scarce natural resources), advantages that are comparative (which result from how different things are done in different parts of Europe) and advantages that are created intentionally by national policymakers or business leaders who seek to distort market competition in their favour.

Unsurprisingly, this leveling of the playing field for the internal market is where you find most of the activity that we call ‘European integration’. It is a sprawling, complex, never-ending negotiation between representatives of different countries about how to mitigate natural vulnerabilities while at the same time fostering the prosperity that can be achieved by a large and competitive market.

It is easy to see who wins and who loses from any isolated aspect of this ongoing process. If you stop time and pull out a single agreement for scrutiny, it is impossible to see how everyone benefits from that isolated illustration. Someone, somewhere in Europe will always be disadvantaged at the expense of someone, somewhere else, either inside or outside the EU. It is also easy to imagine how little chance national representatives will have to be heard within the wider chorus of conflicting demands.

Europe’s heads of state and government try to ease this problem by giving each national representative a chance to speak. But no one who has ever sat in a committee meeting is fooled by that kind of spectacle. It is far easier to imagine that the ‘real work’ is done is something resembling a cross between a smoke-filled room and a trading pit. The European Commission, the Council Secretariat, the permanent representatives and the European Parliament all play a role. That is why critics of European integration are so quick to point out the very high percentage of legislation that they believe originates in Brussels. They do not believe they are represented within the legislative process at the European level, and so they demand to be represented by the national legislative process itself.

These are mutually exclusive alternatives. Either people have to agree to work within Europe’s internal market – with all of the levelling and hence legislation that entails at the European level – or they have to accept the geographic limitations associated with national parliaments. Neither the single currency nor the Schengen Agreement compels Europeans to make this choice. What compels them to make this choice is the requirements for having a single market.

The time has come for supporters of the internal market to stop hiding behind criticism of the single currency and Schengen. They will not win the argument by deflecting the attention of Europe’s critics onto other aspects of integration. If those other projects are eliminated from consideration, the fundamental complaints about Europe will have to be weighed against the enormous advantages that the single market represents.

At that point, Europe’s supporters will have to consider whether the internal market is any less controversial without those other distractions. The harsh reality is that it is not. They will also have to ask whether the internal market functions any better without other projects like the single currency and the Schengen Agreement to support it. The harsher reality is that it does not – but that is a different argument.

Erik Jones (@Erik_Jones_SAIS) is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University, and a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. 

Mark Fitzpatrick: The PMD Report - Implications for the Nuclear Deal with Iran

The much anticipated 2 December report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s nuclear activities of a possible military dimension (PMD) did not say too much new. More than anything it confirmed the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear capabilities and intentions. This is not surprising given that both assessments drew from the same body of intelligence, although the IAEA report had the benefit of new information acquired over eight more years.

The IAEA report concluded that Iran worked on nuclear explosives. The ‘P’ can thus be removed from the ‘PMD’. As Martin Malin noted, we no longer have to say ‘possible’ when commenting on the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme. The IAEA is also confident that there was an explosives chamber at Parchin military base, which Iran removed along with other traces of nuclear-related work at the building in question. The report does not assess intent; it addressed what Iran did, not why.

Most of the exploratory explosives work stopped in 2003, but some fragmented work continued afterwards. We now have a date on how long afterwards: 2009 for computer modelling that was ‘incomplete and fragmented’. There are no more references to nuclear explosives work that may still be ongoing.

By the way, Iran is not the only country to have explored nuclear explosives modelling. Several Western non-nuclear weapons states have done so too, because it is relevant to building nuclear power plants. While this is worth noting, it is not to excuse Iran’s work, which seems more clearly linked to weaponisation.

The report indicates that some of Iran’s explanations were not convincing, particularly on what a building of interest at Parchin was used for. So the report is not an exoneration. It can be read to say: ‘we know what you did, we know you are lying; but the lies are not mortal sins, so let’s leave it at that.’ Although it is not satisfying to either side, it is fair.

The report thus provides a basis for the IAEA Board of Governors to make a political decision to close the ‘MD’ file. Yes, one can call this a concession by the Western nations that could have insisted the IAEA keep pressing Iran for more answers. The IAEA could have kept the Parchin issue alive by demanding convincing answers about what a room in the key building was used for and why the floor has an unusual cross-section and incomplete ventilation system. But this would have meant keeping alive a distraction.

It also would have meant calling a bluff on Supreme Leader Khamenei’s redline on PMD file closure, although it may not have been a bluff. Some of his redlines are unacceptable, in which case the bluff should be called. The United States cannot forego new sanctions if Iran engages in sanctionable activities in areas of human rights or terrorism, for example.

But what overriding purpose would be served by calling his bluff on the PMD file, when the IAEA says it already knows enough? Insisting on full disclosure on past activities is not necessary for future verification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The IAEA essentially knows what Iran did and can make worst-case assumptions in areas of uncertainty. As Hans Blix said at the EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference in Brussels last month, putting the PMD issue behind allows the focus to shift to properly and promptly implementing the JCPOA.

The IAEA’s key responsibility now is to verify Iran’s current and future nuclear activity. Iran apparently sees closing of the PMD file as meaning these activities will not be part of the Additional Protocol broader conclusion exercise. That misinterpretation should be corrected – clearly and publicly– so as not to restrict the scope of the Additional Protocol. Examining history will be important for the Agency to be able to draw the broader conclusion of no non-peaceful nuclear activity. 

Also, if new information about explosives work arises, the IAEA will need to investigate it in order to assure the completeness and correctness of Iran’s nuclear declarations. Relatedly, the JCPOA ban on certain weaponisation activities confirms that the IAEA does have a verification role that goes beyond the nuclear fuel cycle. However, the accord does not say how the ban on weaponisation work is to be verified. This is an area where further clarification is needed.

With the PMD issue closing, I understand why Iran says Implementation Day can come by 15 January. Iran can now proceed to remove the calandria of the Arak reactor and ship 12,000 kilograms of low enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia. These were the two steps Khamenei insisted depended on the PMD file closing. Both can be done quickly, although some parts of the near 20% LEU present complications, reportedly involving storage in Kazakhstan. 

Removing 13,500 centrifuges from Natanz and Fordow takes more time, so Khamenei did not make that conditional on closing the PMD file. The IR-1 model centrifuges began to be removed in October at a faster pace than expected. Iran showed less concern about damaging them because they are poor machines to begin with. Also, the more that are damaged, the greater excuse Iran will have to manufacture replacement machines in order to keep the allowed 5,000 centrifuges running. Such manufacturing will enhance Iran’s capabilities.

Shipping the LEU to Russia involved complicated negotiations in which each side sought commercial advantage. But such haggling can be short-circuited by a political decision, and the contractual issues indeed now appear to be settled. Still, I expect Implementation Day to come later than mid-January. President Hassan Rouhani may favour mid-February, so as to maximise the political boost to his supporters in the parliamentary elections later that month.

The report by IAEA Director General Amano did not give a basis for Western countries to delay Implementation Day, which would have been the case had he reported a lack of Iranian cooperation in addressing the PMD issues or unsatisfactory answers. Although resolution of PMD issues was not a legal condition for JCPOA implementation, a negative report would have constituted a political obstacle.

Closing the PMD file thus clears the next potential hurdle to implementing the Iran accord. Down the road, there will be several more hurdles, including inevitable allegations of cheating. Indeed, claims of cheating will probably be true, involving nuclear-related purchases not channelled through the Procurement Channel, the LEU stockpile fluctuating above the 300 kg limit, and R&D exceeding the set limits. Parties should distinguish between the significant and the less-significant violations, and apply countermeasures proportionately.  The West has other means of leverage besides sanctions snapback, such as slowing down assistance on redesigning the Arak reactor.

Further ahead, the IAEA is likely to find it difficult to draw the broader conclusion in eight years.  It took ten years in the case of Turkey, which did not have a nuclear-weapons programme. Yet in eight years, all nuclear-related sanctions on Iran are to come off, regardless of the IAEA’s assessments. I anticipate that if no broader conclusion of exclusive peaceful nuclear activity can be reached by then, it will be politically unsustainable to lift all sanctions. At that point the JCPOA probably will have to be renegotiated. For now, however, it will go ahead. The world will be better off for this.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS-Americas office and head of the Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Programme. 

The above are his prepared remarks at a 10 December event organised by the Arms Control Association.

Matthew Harries: For Trident renewal, it’s goodbye ‘main gate’

For what is in one sense a question of defence-acquisition esoterica, the United Kingdom’s debate over renewing its nuclear deterrent is peculiar, and peculiarly intense. It has a popular name – ‘Trident renewal’ – which is catchy, widely known and technically inaccurate. It has been subject to a White Paper, a parliamentary vote and two defence reviews, the scrutiny of a high-level NGO commission and a Cabinet Office review all of its own, all of which returned the same answer – that the UK should build a new fleet of nuclear-armed ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs) – yet none of which managed to quiet the opposition. Despite being an issue legally reserved solely for the Westminster government, Trident renewal has featured strongly in the debate over Scottish independence. And it may yet prove to be the issue that breaks apart the Labour Party, making irreconcilable the divide between its new leader and many of his most senior MPs, despite the fact that it was a Labour government which pushed through the original vote for renewal, and that current Labour policy is still to support it.

Of course, Trident renewal is not just about technocratic minutiae. These are, after all, colossally powerful weapons, and the UK has only one nuclear delivery platform - a fact which turns each narrow decision into a broader referendum on the country’s future as a nuclear-armed power. This is a question which tugs on several threads of the UK’s strategic culture at once, including its place and purpose in the world, its historical traditions of deference and dissent, and the emotional pull of an enormous feat of engineering in a country that, these days, has few.

For followers of this saga, there was an obvious headline from the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), released on 23 November. Renewing the deterrent will now cost an estimated £31 billion, a roughly £6bn increase, with an additional £10bn contingency fund set aside. Rumours of this jump had dribbled out in the weeks approaching the review, although they were somewhat clouded by a separate, back-of-an-envelope estimate made by backbench Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, inferring greatly increased whole-of-life costs for the successor programme. (The £31–41bn figure applies to the capital cost of building new submarines, rather than the future yearly cost of operating them and maintaining the nuclear-weapons infrastructure.)

To focus only on the money, however, would be a mistake. This time, the esoterica is indeed where the interesting stuff really lies. In the first place, there is a question of timing. The review states that the new submarines (armed with Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles, which, despite not being the focus of the current renewal decision, lend the overall programme its colloquial name) will enter service in the ‘early 2030s’. Previous documents had referred to the exit from service of the existing Vanguard-class submarines beginning in 2028; an early-2030s in-service date for the successor class indicates that the life of the Vanguard class has been extended by at least two years, and likely more. This is the latest in a series of extensions, and may eventually add up to an overall lifespan of nearly 40 years, compared to an original expected life of 25. (HMS Vanguard itself was the first to go on deterrent patrol, in December 1994.)

The reasons for the delay were not declared in the SDSR; possible explanations might include a desire to maintain synchronicity with the United States’ SSBN-procurement cycle and to spread out the pacing of construction at the shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness, currently burdened with production of Astute-class nuclear-powered attack submarines. A longer service life for the Vanguard class could increase, at least in theory, the risk of Britain’s record of continuous deterrent patrols being broken, though that risk probably remains low. It has also been argued that a longer service life for existing technology increases the risk that developments in anti-submarine warfare over the next 15 years could make the existing SSBN fleet more susceptible to detection. This is an area, however, in which reliable open-source information on which to base a judgment is scarce.

Special delivery
Of equal interest – for political as well as technocratic reasons – is a significant change to the way in which decisions about the submarines’ acquisition will be executed. Until now, the process had been expected to centre on a so-called ‘main gate’ decision. This was a structure based on the CADMID (concept, assessment, development, manufacturing, in-service, disposal) model of acquisition introduced as part of reforms launched by the UK’s 1998 Strategic Defence Review. In this model, acquisition projects face two main points at which approval to continue is required. The first is initial gate, at the end of the concept phase. In the case of the successor programme, this point was reached in 2011, after the development of an overall submarine design, producing a decision to pursue a new propulsion system based on a third-generation pressurised-water reactor, the PWR3. Ordering of long-lead items – that is, those items which need to be ordered well in advance of building the submarines – then began, the design of the submarines was further developed, and other steps were taken to smooth the way for the building process.

The second, and more decisive, point of approval in the CADMID model is main gate, following the assessment phase, at which the principal investment decisions are taken, a preferred bidder chosen and contracts placed. The timing of the successor main gate was an issue of great political sensitivity, and had already been postponed until 2016. In essence, this was to be the point of no return for the successor programme – there was to have been a parliamentary vote to approve the main-gate decision, although this was not a legal requirement, and it had also been identified as the moment at which a final decision on the number of boats to be ordered would be made.

The 2015 SDSR has moved the successor programme decisively away from the main-gate model, judging it ‘not appropriate for a programme of this scale and complexity’ – in remarks to the Public Accounts Committee, a senior civil servant called it a ‘monster’ which kept him up at night – and choosing instead to pursue a ‘staged investment programme’. The SDSR also establishes a new ‘delivery body’, which officials have described as resembling those used to manage the UK’s new high-speed railway line or the 2012 Olympic Games. The details of what this body will look like have not yet been disclosed; importantly, this includes the questions of the jurisdiction under which the body will fall, and to whom the body will report. The Times reported in mid-November that the new delivery body was a vehicle for the Treasury to take control of the successor programme. The SDSR does not provide details to back this up, but the fact that it does not name the Ministry of Defence as the responsible authority suggests that the new body could at least in part be accountable to the Treasury.

Boat vote
There are sharper political implications to this change, moreover, than simply the question of bureaucratic control. Although parliamentary approval of the successor programme by vote is not required, the main-gate decision point nevertheless provided a logical symbolic moment for that approval to be sought. A vote in favour ought to have settled the British nuclear question for a generation. The changes laid out in the SDSR remove that clear moment of decision, and in so doing make the question of a parliamentary vote, and its timing, even more a matter of the government’s discretion. The SDSR promises ‘a debate in Parliament on the principle of Continuous At Sea Deterrence and our plans for Successor’, which is something rather different from a vote to approve.

The government might seek a debate early in 2016 as a means of closing the issue before the May elections in Scotland, where opposition to Trident renewal is a major campaigning issue for the Scottish National Party. An early vote would place heavy pressure on the Labour Party, whose stridently anti-nuclear leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is at odds with his shadow defence and foreign secretaries on this issue, as well as with the majority of his front bench. A controversially organised Labour review on defence, intended to settle Trident policy, is ongoing. When the House of Commons considered UK military action against ISIS targets in Syria, which Corbyn opposed, MPs were permitted to vote with their conscience; shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn made an impassioned and widely lauded speech in favour of bombing, directing his sharpest remarks to members of his own party. This unusual arrangement only just worked for the Syria debate; it is hard to seeing it surviving a vote on Trident.

Matthew Harries (@harries_matthew) is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS.

Bruce Gilley and David Kinsella: Paris COP21 and the road to climate-change coercion

Negotiations at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Paris from 30 November–11 December, have begun. The talks have all the trappings of a self-help seminar for addicts. Sometimes such seminars work, but no amount of positive thinking can change the basic facts. On the one hand, the world is emitting far too much greenhouse gas, and this shows no signs of abating. India and China are expected to continue to emit even greater amounts in the coming decades, while Canada and Indonesia are mismanaging their resources in a way that locks in future increases. On the other hand, attempts to solve this problem through cooperative solutions, such as the Paris talks, coupled with ‘win–win’ solutions at the domestic level, are only nibbling at the margins.

We have previously argued in Survival that, as this crisis intensifies, progressively minded climate-change countries, both developing (such as the Philippines) and developed (such as Germany), will find themselves increasingly frustrated with humanity’s flirtation with extinction. Given the stakes and the risks – living with even a 1% chance of human extinction from a problem that could be solved is ludicrously irrational – such countries are more likely to shift to a more combative style with their neighbours. We have called this ‘coercive climate-change action’.

The basic idea is that, as they have done in the domestic sphere with mandatory emissions controls backed by the coercive power of the state, progressive countries will adopt more coercive policies internationally. These are likely to begin with low-level actions, such as conditioning technical assistance on the recipient’s climate-change-mitigation efforts, and then escalate to medium-level actions, such as imposing stiff carbon tariffs on imports. The possibility of limited military strikes against climate-threatening activities in neighbouring states is not likely, but also not inconceivable as climate conditions worsen. The key point is this: the notion that countries are sovereign with respect to the decisions that bear on greenhouse-gas emissions or sinks is weakening.

What would it take for the Paris talks to reduce the increasing likelihood of a coercive international politics of climate change? The talks will have to formulate a new norm or new plans that explicitly allow countries to have a say in shaping the policies of their neighbours on an ongoing basis. The idea that domestic policymaking is sovereign – embodied in the language of ‘intended nationally determined contributions’ (INDCs) – must be ditched at the Paris conference in order for states to be allowed to shape global climate policies in a cooperative manner, without the need to resort to coercion.

As they stand, INDCs are certainly a positive step. But even if they are fully implemented, we will warm the planet to threatening levels by the end of the century. And who believes they will be fully implemented? At present, the only international role in INDCs is the requirement that they be transparent to outsiders. What’s needed is a new mechanism – a new policy process – characterised by ongoing assessment and joint policy formulation of domestic emissions-mitigation strategies for the major parties.

There will be a lot of talk in Paris about whether a climate agreement can be made legally binding. But whether the agreement is legally binding is less important than whether the terms of the agreement are adequate to bring greenhouse-gas emissions down to where they need to be. Neither the INDCs nor the political processes that played out in the run-up to the conference were as inspiring as the opening speeches in Paris.

There will also be talk of climate finance: payments by developed countries to developing countries to help fund emissions mitigation and greener development policies. Perhaps this wealth transfer can be justified in terms of an ecological debt owed by developed countries, for their cumulative and disproportionate greenhouse-gas emissions, or as reparations for the adverse consequences of climate change. Either way, developing countries will be wary of any strings attached as an affront to their prerogatives as sovereign nations. Yet ‘climate conditionality’ is just the sort of low-level coercion that will become more common as international cooperative efforts fall short of effecting sufficient climate action.

In other words, the key to success is not whether a Paris agreement is legally binding, since the record of international climate law provides little reason for optimism. The issue is instead whether the process of INDC formulation and implementation remains sovereign. At present, we see no evidence of any fundamental shift at Paris, merely a new round of commitments which may themselves be grossly inadequate and which, if violated, carry no consequences for the country concerned. As such, we do not expect Paris to lead to a shift in the underlying trends towards a more coercive global politics of climate change.

Bruce Gilley is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the doctoral programme in Public Affairs and Policy in the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University.

David Kinsella is Professor and Chair of Political Science in the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Reflections on a Decade of Proliferation Prognostication

When I arrived at the IISS ten years ago, all was not quiet on the non-proliferation front. In Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had recently taken office and, in one of his first actions, had rejected the package proposal put forward by the E3 to try to halt Iran’s move toward enrichment. Israel was speaking of a ‘point of no return’ if Iran learned how to spin centrifuges.

In northeast Asia, the Six Party Talks had just produced a Joint Declaration, setting a path toward denuclearising North Korea, but the promise was quickly broken as parties disagreed on sequencing. With North Korea’s help, Syria was building a plutonium-production reactor, although we did not know it at the time.

George W. Bush and Manmohan Singh had agreed on a deal to allow full civil nuclear cooperation without India having to give up its weapons programme and join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The deal anticipated geostrategic benefits from a new alignment, but it sparked Pakistan to increase its plutonium production and later to introduce tactical nuclear weapons to the fraught subcontinent equation.

In the years since, the non-proliferation story has been mixed. At least the worst nightmares have not come to pass.

The taboo on use of nuclear weapons continued to its seventieth year. This past decade the world never even came close to a nuclear exchange. Nor has there been any detonation of a dirty bomb, though not because of a taboo or because radiological material is well secured. We can thank our security agencies – though we also were just lucky.

The 2008 Mumbai massacre did not spark an armed conflict that could have resulted in a nuclear war, although chances are greater today of such an escalation.

North Korea did not resume construction of the 50MWe reactor that was stopped in 1998 under the US–North Korea Agreed Framework and which, if completed, would have produced plutonium sufficient for 5–10 weapons a year. Instead, the reactor rusted out. Those who criticise the Agreed Framework need to compare what would likely have happened without it.

Iran did not acquire a nuclear weapon, and war was not initiated to stop it. Both worst-case outcomes were avoided. My 2008 Adelphi book on that subject stood the test of time. The July Iran nuclear accord should forestall those outcomes for another 15 years, at least. That is, if the deal is implemented – which, though probable, isn’t a sure bet given the fragility of political support in Iran and in the United States. It is unfortunate that Iran retains a weapons capability, but it is better that it is constrained. Again, critics of the deal have to compare it with the likely alternatives.

Containment has largely worked to prevent proliferation – with the exception of the failure to stop North Korea. The number of nuclear-armed states has been kept to a single digit. The past decade has seen significant rollback: in Iran’s centrifuge numbers; in Myanmar’s apparent nuclear dabbling and its missile deals with North Korea; and in Syria’s CW stockpiles – now eliminated from state arsenals, although not from non-state actors.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) banning these weapons has come close to universal acceptance. The NPT used to be the arms-control treaty closest to universalisation, with only three hold-outs. Now it has four, with North Korea. The CWC now also has only four outliers: Israel, Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan, the last of which will probably accede soon. Israel and Egypt do not have good reasons to be outside the CWC; it just isn’t a priority for them. They should make it one, for reasons explained by Nomi Bar-Yaacov in the latest edition of Survival.

Other treaties and would-be treaties have made less progress. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) still requires eight ratifications for entry-into-force – only one fewer than ten years ago. The outliers do not have good reasons. In the US, it is just because of politics, which are getting worse.

The NPT witnessed a new case of safeguards non-compliance by Syria. There have also been louder claims that the nuclear-weapon states (NWS) have not met their disarmament obligations. In fact, they have made significant reductions in arsenals, but the superpowers retain far too many nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, momentum in making further cuts has stalled.

When I inherited my programme from Gary Samore ten years ago, it was called just ‘Non-Proliferation’. It focused on ways to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to rogue states. Both of these terms soon went out of fashion. A few years later, attuned to a growing academic and philanthropic interest in arms control and denuclearisation, we changed the programme name to Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

The zeitgeist then held that nuclear weapons were losing their salience. Arms control was back in fashion. While nuclear threats loomed in Asia, they were disappearing from Europe. In a presentation last week at the EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference, Camille Grand from the FRS, noted that these assumptions have been massively challenged by developments over the past two years. The crisis over Ukraine exacerbated what already were growing tensions between Russia and the Western nations. Russian aggression in Ukraine was accompanied by cavalier nuclear sword rattling of a kind not heard in many years. The way forward in US–Russia arms control is blocked by demands for linkage with missile defence and conventional technologies, including prompt global strike.

The one silver lining in the dark cloud is the cooperation witnessed between Russia and the West over the Iranian nuclear accord. Despite the political and commercial reasons why it might have been in Russia’s interest not to see a deal, Russia’s non-proliferation goals trumped other considerations. There may be something to build upon here.

The breakdown in Russia–West relations and impact on arms control is one of the three worst developments in my field in the past decade. The other two were Assad’s use of chemical weapons and North Korea’s testing of nuclear weapons.

I have been encouraged to give consideration to black swans. These three developments, bad as they were, probably don’t qualify for that term. They were unpredictable but, unfortunately, not so rare in historical terms.

Nor do they meet the black swan criterion of having a major impact. Russia’s rupture of the Budapest Memorandum, which assured Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity when it gave up the nuclear weapons on its territory, did not dissuade Iran from signing the most significant arms-control agreement of the decade. Assad’s use of chemical weapons gave vent to non-state actors to use chlorine as weapons, but at least they did not have access to his CW arsenal, which was shipped out and destroyed. North Korea’s nuclear testing did not spark nuclear proliferation by its neighbours. South Korea and Japan remain non-nuclear. Taiwan, too. All three have the means and the motive. They didn’t go nuclear for two reasons: because they realise the downsides in terms of risks to their economies and defence relationships, and because they could rely on US extended deterrence for their security. My next book, to come out in February, explains this all in detail.

Writing the book reminded me of the importance of deterrence. The means of deterrence are not just nuclear, of course. Deterrence via conventional weapons is often more credible. But nuclear weapons are the ultimate deterrent. And, as noted, their salience in Europe has returned.

So my team and I have decided to update our programme title again, to Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy. The first part represents continuity of the programme description, and my own expertise. The second part of the programme title – Nuclear Policy – encompasses all the other nuclear topics we cover, including nuclear disarmament, nuclear security, nuclear energy and nuclear deterrence.

Although I will take up new duties running the IISS office in Washington from next week, I will continue to run the NP/NP programme as well. Otherwise, it would not have been fair for me to rename it and run.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Programme.

The above is an as-prepared version of Mark Fitzpatrick’s valedictory talk at Arundel House on 24 November, his last day in the office before he moves to Washington to head the IISS office based there.

Nick Childs: The SDSR and UK Naval Ambition

The results of the latest UK Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) are about to break cover. Given the tumultuous strategic backdrop, they are eagerly awaited not only in the United Kingdom itself, but also among its allies.

The political signals so far suggest that, particularly compared to the 2010 review, the new SDSR will have a significant maritime emphasis. After all, the government has already declared its intention to order four new submarines to sustain the Trident nuclear ballistic-missile force. The prime minister, David Cameron, has announced that both of the new large Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers being built will be brought into service (whereas the 2010 SDSR suggested one could have been mothballed or sold). The recent ground-breaking ceremony in Bahrain for the new British naval base also underscored UK ambition for a renewed role once again ‘east of Suez’, including with an enhanced maritime presence.

There was also no lack of ambition in the signature a year ago by the chiefs of the Royal Navy and the US Navy of a document setting out a joint vision of sea power and an intention to develop an ever more integrated approach to future operations. There are clearly unique elements to this partnership, particularly in terms of shared skills and trust between the two navies, as there are more broadly in the UK–US defence relationship as a whole, much of which revolves around the nuclear capability.

But there are also important questions to be asked in terms of calibrating just what such a relationship amounts to in a global context, and whether the United Kingdom and the Royal Navy are able to deliver on the declared ambition. As a comparison, Japan might also claim a critical if subtly different maritime relationship with the United States. And Japan boasts a fleet of 43 modern destroyers and frigates to the Royal Navy’s 19.

For the Royal Navy, one of the critical SDSR questions is whether it can find the manpower to sustain its equipment and operational plans. There is also the fate of the Type-26 global combat ship programme, in the context of debate over whether the current force of destroyers and frigates is sufficient to sustain a credible balance between carrier task force ambitions and other patrolling and presence tasks. And delivering two aircraft-carrier hulls is one thing, but what, if anything, will the SDSR say about delivering sufficient numbers of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters for carrier operations? This is what will really count at the strategic level, particularly for an ally like the United States.

[Ed. note – the author will discuss these issues at greater length in an article in the February–March 2016 issue of Survival.]

Nick Childs is Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security at the IISS.

Dana H. Allin: The Paris Attacks and Transatlantica

In discussing the Paris attacks, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have both employed a theme that Kerry introduced to his 2004 presidential campaign: France is America’s oldest ally. The solidarity is genuine and profound, one of the significant transatlantic ramifications of the horrific massacres of last Friday evening. There are, at the same time, some structural transatlantic tensions that the attacks could exacerbate in the coming weeks and months. One is that, contrary to what one might imagine from the American political debate, Europe is simply more exposed to jihadist terrorism than the United States. Survival contributing editor Steven Simon made this point in an article, co-authored by his Dartmouth colleague Daniel Benjamin, and published yesterday by the New York Times. The differences include geographical proximity to the Middle East killing fields (a proximity that has facilitated the torrent of refugees), Europe’s Schengen regime of open borders and the relative disaffection of Europe’s Muslims in comparison to their US counterparts.

France has intensified airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria. The Franco-American cooperation in this campaign may also raise questions about the broader military capabilities of European allies in comparison to the United States. But Simon and Benjamin suggest that a more important gap is in the resources devoted to counter-terrorism intelligence. Of course, some of the American largesse is no doubt wasted, but waste is perhaps inevitable in the kind of crash programmes the US has launched since 9/11. In any event, the absolute imperative of expanded intelligence collection on both sides of the Atlantic is the Simon and Benjamin conclusion. Their whole argument is well worth a read.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Mark Fitzpatrick: EU takes stage on Iran deal

The 300-some participants at the EU Non-proliferation and Disarmament Conference held in Brussels from 11–12 November had reason for celebration – and not just because the meeting began on a national holiday for many of them. The event was infused with sober satisfaction with the Iran nuclear accord, seen as the most important non-proliferation achievement of the past decade, and with understated pride in the Union’s contribution to bringing it about. The EU chaired the talks, acted as a mediator between the key states, and via its ability to both impose and lift stringent sanctions helped concentrate Iranian minds on a solution.

The Iran nuclear accord was possible, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said, because of ‘patient, obstinate, courageous multilateralism’.  Her emphasis on multilateralism reflects the EU vision. For a collective riven by disputes over immigration, debt bailout and federalism, it is reassuring to see what can be achieved when the 28 members work together and with other parties. As was mentioned more than once at the conference, wrongly labelling the talks as ‘P5+1-Iran’ neglects the EU’s role. The correct nomenclature – E3/EU+3 and Iran – does not trip lightly off the tongue, but then nothing about Brussels bureaucracy does.

In her conference keynote address, EU Deputy Secretary General and Political Director Helga Schmid provided the first detailed public description of the negotiation process from the EU perspective. She spoke, too, about the potential positive implications of the deal, which I myself recently discussed in a commentary for the latest issue of Survival. At the bilateral level, these include the prospect for EU–Iran cooperation in addressing common security challenges of drug trafficking and the refugee flow from Afghanistan. At the regional level, the Iran deal has already sparked a more inclusive focus on bringing peace to the Syrian conflict, now with Iranian participation.

Schmid was cautious, though, about assuming success in implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). As discussed throughout the conference, high hurdles loom ahead. At a dinner keynote speech, Yukiya Amano, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), focused on the first challenge. By 15 December he must issue a ‘final assessment’ regarding Iran’s answers to the IAEA’s concerns about nuclear activities of a possible military dimension (PMD). For several years now the agency has been probing a dozen outstanding cases of apparent work on nuclear weaponisation. As of this past spring it had received reasonable answers to about one and a half of them. The nuclear accord and a separate Iran–IAEA agreement required Iran to address the rest of the questions by 18 October along with the means of allowing IAEA verification.

IAEA access to Iran’s military base at Parchin was the most visible and controversial aspect of PMD verification. Amano noted that in visiting the key building in question at Parchin in September, he saw no sign of a large explosives chamber that was reported previously to have been present and used for nuclear-related experiments. Amano also emphasised that the environmental swipe sampling procedures carried out at Parchin by Iranians themselves, ‘under continuous surveillance’ by the IAEA were in accord with verification requirements and Agency practice with 40 other countries. What he did not say was that in most of those other cases, sampling is conducted by the host country for technical reasons, e.g. because it is done in a reactor glove box. Iran’s insistence on itself conducing all swipe samples at Parchin could be a concern insofar as it sets a precedent for future IAEA inspection of suspicious sites in Iran.

There is also a more immediate problem. Given its stalling all these years, one wonders how Iran now could have come up with satisfactory answers in a few months. Former IAEA Deputy Legal Advisor Laura Rockwood, who now heads the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation and who spoke in the final conference session, was doubtful the agency would be able to resolve all of the issues. She surmised that the IAEA may be able to conclude, as it did with regard to some issues in 2008, that Iran’s explanations are ‘not inconsistent with the data currently available to the agency’. She added that some of the 12 PMD issues may then be retired, but that the Iran nuclear issue would not be removed from the agenda of the IAEA Board of Governors.

Whether such an outcome will be good enough for key parties remains unclear. The JCPOA itself does not require that the PMD issues be resolved, although the separate roadmap between Iran and the IAEA, also signed on 14 July, does refer to the goal of resolving all outstanding issues by the end of 2015. Moreover, as a political matter, an IAEA report that said issues remained unresolved or, worse, that expressed dissatisfaction with Iran’s answers, would make it difficult for Western nations to go through with plans to lift nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.

For its part, Iran wants IAEA vindication. In a 21 October letter giving conditional approval to the deal, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the PMD file would have to be closed before Iran would carry out two of its requirements under the accord. Sparked by complaints from hardline lawmakers that Khamenei’s directive was being violated, Iran on 10 November stopped disconnecting centrifuges at the Natanz and Fordow enrichment plants. Ali Vaez from the International Crisis Group posed an unanswered question as to how Khamenei’s insistence on closing the PMD file squares with the possibility of an inconclusive IAEA report.

Former State Department negotiator Robert Einhorn, now with Brookings, asked about another hurdle to successful implementation of the JCPOA. Khamenei’s 21 October letter insisted that any new sanctions imposed on Iran would be a breach of the accord and require Iran to stop implementing it. Einhorn noted that the JCPOA only refers to nuclear-related sanctions and he anticipated that Washington is likely to add Iranian entities to the sanctions black list over human rights violations, for example. Indeed, Iran’s jailing of Iranian-American dual citizens could spark such sanctions. Mostafa Zahrani, director-general of the Institute for Political and International Studies, which is under Iran’s foreign ministry, answered that Khamenei’s letter was a pre-emptive effort to prevent the JCPOA from being torpedoed through malicious spoiling. Left unsaid was that there would be very different interpretations as to which side started any such spoiling.   

Hans Blix, former IAEA director-general, had the last word, however. Acknowledging that there will be many spoilers, he expected that application of the latest Security Council resolution on Iran will gradually build the confidence that has been lacking. Resolution 2231 expresses the Council’s desire to build a new relationship with Iran. Blix reflected the general sentiment of the EU Conference that there is a will to do this. When BBC International Correspondent Lyse Doucet surveyed participants after she moderated Amano’s dinner speech, the vast majority raised their hands in agreement that the Iran nuclear deal will succeed.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme. He contributed a commentary assessing the Iran nuclear deal to the October–November 2015 issue of Survival.

Matthew Harries: Russia in Syria – cold wars and the zero-sum trap

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bloody struggle in Syria is the subject to which delegates to the 2015 IISS Manama Dialogue have devoted the most overall time. And Russia’s direct military intervention has been the source of extensive and often worried speculation. Has Russia exploited American weakness to make sure President Bashar al-Assad will not fall? Or is Russia steaming into a strategic quagmire, doomed to squander capital, blood and its regional reserves of soft power in search of an elusive military victory?

The latter interpretation was the driving theme of US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s address to the dialogue’s first plenary session. Russia, Blinken argued, cannot afford to sustain its intervention, risks blowback and will soon realise what US President Barack Obama’s administration has realised – namely, that this is a conflict that cannot be ended by force of arms alone. This is a contested point: IISS Chairman François Heisbourg observed from the floor that the Russian intervention is of a scale only as large as the UK and French intervention in Libya – significant but manageable.

The logic underpinning US policy offers a way out of this predicament: if Russia now ‘owns’ the Syria conflict, it will face incentives to pressure Assad to step down, clearing the way for an internationally brokered transition of some kind. As journalist Josh Rogin quite reasonably pointed out, however, this logic might fail. Russia might endure, and the crisis might simply get worse.

This week the United States made its first overt announcement of the deployment of special-operations forces to Syria. Russia’s opportunistic rhetorical response, warning of the risks of proxy warfare, was reminiscent of the surreal tone of Cold War public diplomacy, in which both sides would officially deny mutually understood realities on the ground.

But there is another Cold War echo to this debate, and it is an especially insidious one. The Cold War featured a generalisation of hostility, in which the two sides approached various global challenges mainly as a testing ground for relative strength, and a venue for competition in which one side could win and one side could lose. A defeat for the opposition was to be welcomed, sometimes with only secondary regard for the local implications.

This is not yet the case in Syria. But there are dangers for the West in excessive schadenfreude. If Russia fares badly in Syria, it will do so at the cost of Syrian lives, and it might persist, grimly, for some time. The further damage to what remains of Syria as a state, and to order in the Levant, could be severe. Deputy Secretary of State Blinken might well be correct to assess that the combined experience of Ukraine and Syria demonstrates President Vladimir Putin’s tactical decisiveness and strategic ineptitude. But this is not a theoretical proposition, and it was not reassuring to read, in a late September New York Times article, an anonymous US official’s wry response to Russian bragging about assembling a pro-Assad coalition: 'Knock yourselves out’. Or as columnist Michael A. Cohen put it, if Russia ‘wants to involve itself in another conflict, the U.S. should be rolling out the red carpet. Frankly, better them than us.’

This is one reason why a renewed cold war in Europe would be disastrous. Should such a condition re-emerge, Russia and the West (and especially the United States), will approach conflicts such as the one in Syria with an old and familiar addition to their strategic pecking-order: an interest in seeing the other side fail. If that happens, a mainspring of hope in the post-Cold War order will have run dry.

Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS.

Erik Jones: Are global market infrastructures an instrument of foreign policy?

Roughly 9,000 members of the global finance community gathered in Singapore last week at a conference devoted to ‘market infrastructure’ – meaning the plumbing (communication, clearing, settlement, depository) that makes finance work. On one level it was a very geeky affair, with its own confusing jargon. The name of the conference, SIBOS, refers to another acronym, SWIFT. If you wanted to fill a room, all you had to do was shout ‘block chain’ or ‘distributed ledger’ and you were made. And there was a whole forum devoted to standards – which are precise definitions for how things should look and work. But the buzz was not only about technology. You could pack the room talking about China’s strategy to internationalise the renminbi just as easily. Market infrastructure is about power as well as plumbing. More important, the power and the plumbing tend to work at cross purposes.

The tension between how markets are connected and who has control over the infrastructure (or connecting bits) will define the next wave of globalisation. Right now there is a contrast in views. The easiest way to illustrate this is through two global thinkers. One is Parag Khanna; the other is Nader Mousavizadeh. Khanna is a long-time student of how the world is put together. He was one of the first to map the emergence of a new Silk Road across central Asia and he was at the leading edge of the debate about global cities. His new project is on connectivity, or ‘connectography’, and the general theme is that emerging markets are rewiring the world economy in their own interests – and have been for decades. The new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is only the latest iteration in a consistent strategy for China to build secure access to vital resources and global markets. Moreover, China is not alone in these efforts and other emerging markets are actively engaged: just look at the explosion in South–South trade. Even India, which has been slow off the mark, is now firmly in the game. The result is a world economy that is more interconnected in more diverse ways than ever before. Moreover, the pattern of interconnection is strategic – with South–South ‘infrastructure alliances’, as Khanna calls them, providing key insulation for national sovereignty. The end result is a world economy that countries in Europe and North America will find much harder to manipulate.

Mousavizadeh takes a somewhat less sanguine view. He is a long-term student of global power, having worked closely with Kofi Annan at the United Nations in the 1990s and having kept a tight finger on the pulse of geopolitical risk through his positions as Chief Executive Officer at Oxford Analytica and co-founder of Macro Advisory Partners. Mousavizadeh does not deny that the network of global connections is both expanding and deepening as emerging markets and rising powers put their stamp on the world economy. What he objects to is the idea that the pattern of interdependence is so tight, dense or redundant that it can no longer be manipulated. On the contrary, he suggests, anything can be used by governments seeking to press a national advantage. The fact that redundant connections exist does not mean there is no cost to switching from one infrastructure to another and no vulnerability associated with the transition. Hence Mousavizadeh anticipates the ‘weaponisation of everything’ – which is a world within which all governments, and not just global powers, seek to exploit interdependence to exert leverage.

The two perspectives highlight key elements of globalisation as it is evolving. The world is becoming more interconnected and the connecting bits can be manipulated. The problem is that any attempt to use global market infrastructures as an instrument of foreign policy runs the risk of fracturing the world economy into overlapping and competing systems. This is one of the many reasons why it would be dangerous to try to exclude the Russian banks from the SWIFT network for financial communications (which was one of the ideas floated for tightening the sanctions on Russia over Russian policy toward Ukraine). The result would be to hurt the Russian banks in the short term but also to create a longer-term incentive for Russia and other countries that might one day face similar sanctions to build a financial telecommunications infrastructure beyond the control of policymakers in the United States and Europe. Indeed, it is no secret that they have already started – both in collaboration and for specific use in connecting financial institutions inside China. Such a parallel financial communications infrastructure would not only insulate foreign banks from Western policymakers, but it would also lower the efficiency of global financial transactions and it would make it easier for non-Western governments to think about how disrupting the SWIFT network might be used to exploit a vulnerability for Western banks. In other words, duplication or redundancy would set the stage for a kind of tit-for-tat weaponisation of financial communications.

This explains why the internationalisation of the Chinese currency is so important for the financial infrastructure community. In the past, the US government has used access to dollar clearing as a powerful instrument of foreign policy. In doing so, it has also created an incentive for the Chinese government to promote the renminbi as a global instrument for trade and finance. Should they succeed in this endeavour, they will not only raise the prestige of the Chinese currency but also equip themselves to exploit other countries’ dependence on gaining access to renminbi clearing (and other post-trade services). The world economy will be more interconnected but it will also be subject to greater manipulation. Moreover, Chinese influence will only increase as the Chinese government succeeds in promoting the international use of renminbi-denominated assets. China will not have to rival the US dollar for this policy to count as a success. All it will need is to lock enough other countries into a new and vital piece of global financial plumbing for which it can control access.

A version of this blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. You can follow him on Twitter at: @Erik_Jones_SAIS.

Nick Childs: Britain’s nuclear debate - a home for Trident at Kings Bay?

In his article in the October–November 2015 issue of Survival on the replacement of the UK’s Trident-armed submarine force, William Walker mentions the possibility that, if Scotland were to become a sovereign state and expel British nuclear forces, the United States might offer to allow the UK to use the base at Kings Bay in Georgia, at least temporarily, while other basing options in England or Wales were developed. It is an idea that has been raised before. There are some aspects to the proposal which seem superficially attractive. But the obstacles are very significant.

Kings Bay is the home of the US Navy’s east-coast-based Ohio-class Trident-armed ballistic-missile submarines, which are even larger than the UK Royal Navy’s current Vanguard class. British submarines call in on Kings Bay to load and unload their Trident missiles from and back into a common US–UK pool of weapons. But, when they do so, the missiles are unarmed, as they have their nuclear warheads fitted and removed at the Royal Naval Armament Depot at Coulport, adjacent to the submarines’ current base at Faslane.

Therein lies one of the critical practical obstacles to the idea of Kings Bay as even a temporary base for Britain’s Trident submarine force. It is possible that, as part of a temporary transition, the warhead fitting, storage and maintenance facilities at Coulport could be retained, even if the submarines were relocated. But separating the submarines from their armament facilities by an entire ocean would present massive operational difficulties, especially if the operational concept to sustain a continuous at-sea deterrent with no more than four boats were unchanged.

A permanent move, whether to the United States or within the rest of the UK, would require the recreation of the Coulport facilities elsewhere. In the context of a relocation to Kings Bay, and sustaining the notion of a national independent nuclear force, that would surely also at least require the development of a national UK nuclear warhead facility in Georgia. The hurdles to creating such a facility on US soil (not least, satisfying two sets of national regulatory authorities), are likely to be significantly greater than attempting to do the same thing in another part of the United Kingdom. And what would the transport arrangements be for delivering UK warheads from their manufacturing site, the UK’s Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, to the United States?

Providing broader maintenance facilities for the submarines would also be complicated. Devonport plays host to the Vanguard-class boats for long refits. But, in terms of operational sustainment, there would need to be significant additional provision for British boats at Kings Bay. They share the same missiles as their US counterparts. The next generation of submarines will share a common, jointly US/UK-developed missile compartment. But virtually all the other major systems, including the nuclear propulsion plant, are different.

There is also the personnel issue. Migrating all the necessary crews, their families, and any required sustaining UK workforce, to Georgia – when maintaining manning is proving a huge challenge as it is – would surely present at least as many practical problems as finding a new home for Trident within the United Kingdom.

Finally, of course, there are the political and strategic considerations. There is some precedent for all of this in the forward basing of US ballistic-missile submarine capabilities at Holy Loch in Scotland for three decades from 1961. And today there are US tactical nuclear weapons based on European soil. But that is at a much lower rung on the strategic nuclear ladder. And Holy Loch was nuclear-equipped in the context of both the Cold War and a massive home-based US nuclear infrastructure, of which Holy Loch was just an element. Moving the UK’s Trident force to Kings Bay today would mean basing an entire national nuclear-missile force on foreign soil.

Basing what is meant to be a nation’s ultimate deterrent capability on foreign soil must raise questions about that nation’s willingness to use it. And would the American authorities be willing to take on the political controversy that would undoubtedly go along with establishing a base for non-US nuclear weapons on US soil? The Westminster government would likewise face redoubled allegations that its independent deterrent was no such thing. (That argument might be different if the focus of the justification for maintaining the UK force were to change significantly, becoming much more founded on NATO-wide, rather than national, nuclear capability.)

All this suggests that the Kings Bay option would seem to present at least as many obstacles as any of the other alternative sites for the future of the UK nuclear force. Perhaps the key question is to what extent the UK government will choose, or be forced, to confront these options more publicly in the future than it has been prepared to do up to now.

Nick Childs is Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security at the IISS.

Dana H. Allin: Hillary Wins in Vegas

Aside from her unambiguous win, one thing was obvious in Hillary Clinton’s debate performance last night in Las Vegas: she’s running for Barack Obama’s third term. In the history of US presidential politics, that’s not always an obvious move. It is usually difficult for a party that has controlled the White House for eight years to win another mandate from an understandably weary electorate. To be sure, these generalisations are problematic because the sample size of US presidential elections is small. Still, the would-be third-term successors of the past two decades have generally acted as though they needed to get free of the shadow of their party’s incumbent. John McCain in 2008 had no choice but to try; George W. Bush was very unpopular, and the campaign season had a Last-Days-of-Pompeii feel as the world financial system came crashing down. In these circumstances, McCain’s loss was probably over-determined, but the Bush legacy was one of the factors that brought him down. Al Gore in 2000 had a trickier calculation to make, and conventional wisdom says he got it wrong. Bill Clinton was an unusually popular president towards the end of his second term, but both terms had been tumultuous and scandal-ridden, and Gore decided that his campaign required some distance. He in fact won the popular vote but lost – albeit narrowly and controversially – in the Electoral College. The failure to fully embrace the administration he had been part of was probably a mistake.

Hillary Clinton was determined last night not to make a similar mistake. She embraced Obama’s presidency at every opportunity. Indeed, when one of her opponents tried to use Obama’s own winning tactic from 2008 – criticising her Senate vote authorising the Iraq War – Clinton turned to President Obama himself for absolution. ‘Well’, she said, ‘I recall very well being on a debate stage, I think, about 25 times with then-Senator Obama, debating this very issue. After the election, he asked me to become Secretary of State. He valued my judgment…’ Even on Syria’s civil war, where Clinton’s instincts seem again more hawkish than the president’s, she was careful not to frame her views as a criticism of the administration. ‘[W]e are already flying in Syria just as we are flying in Iraq. The president has made a very tough decision.’ She went on to say that a no-fly zone should be ‘on the table’ as a source of leverage ‘to get the Russians to have to deal with everybody in the region and begin to move toward a political, diplomatic solution in Syria’.  And again, she gave a nod to her former colleagues – ‘I know that inside the administration this is being hotly debated…’

On domestic policy – with the exception of trade, where she has now staked out a position to the president’s left – Clinton was even more vociferously supportive of the administration’s policies. To say that she is running for Obama’s third term is really to say that it will be a major theme of her campaign that the administration’s accomplishments – on healthcare, immigration, carbon regulation, the nuclear deal with Iran – had to be clawed out against fierce Republican opposition, and that another Democratic presidency is necessary to guard against right-wing reversal on all fronts. The days of ‘triangulation’ – a strategy famously associated with her husband – appear to be over. The middle ground has disappeared. President Obama is mildly unpopular in the country at large, but he remains very popular with Democrats. If Clinton wins the nomination, and if last night is any guide, her general election strategy will be to focus on that Democratic half of the country, hoping to capitalise on the energy that Obama brought to it, and also hoping that it will prove – if only barely – to be a larger half.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Steven Simon: The Democrats’ Debate and Israel

Tonight is the US Democratic presidential candidates’ first debate. Without knowing the questions in advance, we can be reasonably confident that Middle East policies, including relations with Israel, will come up. They will certainly be themes of contention in the primary campaigns for both parties, and in the general election campaign. We have already heard from the many Republican candidates in somewhat surreal encounters. So far, at least, the Republicans’ organising principle for the strategic relationship seems to be to jettison the nuclear deal with Iran. The replacement they envisage would somehow be foolproof and not entail any sanctions relief for Iran in return for its compliance. The P5+1 have already rejected such a possibility, while one member of the Iranian parliament, which approved the deal without knowing the contents, said that he would like to see the negotiator entombed at the Arak reactor. That the Iranian regime is so fearful of the parliamentary response to the details of the agreement that they would conceal them, suggests that – from an Israeli perspective – it might actually be a good deal.

In any event, the Republicans’ arguments have been challenged by scores of former Israeli defence and intelligence officials. These experienced professionals, all presumably Israeli patriots, share the prevailing view that the deal lowers the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran more than any plausible alternative. The challenge now is to think systematically about how best to help secure Israel’s safety against immediate and long-term threats.

And the threats are myriad. The increasingly anarchic conditions on Israel’s borders, some of which are being exploited by Iran, will continue to jeopardise Israel’s safety. To the extent that an oasis of stability against a larger, bloody regional landscape is desirable, Israel must be able to fend off such challenges without having to resort to full-blown war. Israel will have to find a diplomatic way to tamp down growing violence on the West Bank, even as it prepares to deal militarily with external threats. In an effort to grapple with these challenges, the Israel Defense Forces and Ministry of Defense recently circulated an unprecedented strategic statement. Over the years, Israeli military chiefs of staff have periodically released threat assessments, but never such a systematic review of the threats facing the Jewish state, the strategic implications of these threats and the practical requirements that flow from the analysis.

This document, signed by General Gadi Eisenkot, the IDF chief of staff, is already looking beyond the Iran nuclear problem. What apparently concerns Eisenkot more are the irregular, sub-state adversaries that threaten Israel’s population and economic progress. By blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon for more than a decade, Israel is now better positioned to counter these threats. For Eisenkot, and the military he commands, the problems are Hizbullah and Hamas, both of which are linked to Iran, but also the proliferation of Sunni extremist groups in Syria. The IDF’s focus on these threats should guide Washington’s approach to helping Israel defend itself.

The necessary measures obviously include collecting and evaluating intelligence on Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement and preparing response options should Iran cheat or try for a breakout. Those options include military action. The Obama administration has made clear that it will retain ‘all options’, including the military one, if Iran crosses the threshold of building a nuclear weapon. But this is more likely to be a problem for the next administration, and Hillary Clinton, for one, has already promised that as president she would stop an Iranian breakout by force if necessary.

Clinton has also promised to continue the methodical approach to security assistance and collaboration, geared to IDF priorities, which the Obama administration has conducted. Despite well-known frictions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu credited the administration’s ‘unprecedented’ security cooperation with his country. Clinton led international efforts to pass UN Security Council Resolution 1929 in June 2010, imposing the harshest sanctions on Iran in history. In 2012, she led negotiations to establish a ceasefire in Gaza and end rocket attacks from Hamas. As secretary of state, she requested increased assistance for Israel every year, from $2.55 billion when she took office to $3.1 billion in FY2013, an increase of nearly 20%. She worked to upgrade Patriot missiles and the Iron Dome system, and helped equip Israel with the F-35 joint strike fighter.

More can be done. Given the extremely volatile situation on Israel’s borders and the lead time necessary to put programmes in place, especially procurement programmes, it makes sense to move forward the renewal of the 10-year memorandum of understanding that regulates US assistance, as Clinton has proposed. She has also proposed measures to deal with the threat from Hamas and Hizbullah – and now Sinai, where the quiet days resemble the climax of Mad Max: Fury Road – a serious, immediate increase in the Iron Dome programme, which shoots down missiles and rockets. Swift transfer of the F-35 tactical aircraft would enable the Israeli air force to manage the threat from missiles launched from points farther afield.  Intensified intelligence cooperation, not just relating to Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, but also focusing on Sunni jihadists whom we know have their sights set on Israel, would serve both US and Israeli interests. All of this corresponds to what the IDF believes that Israel really needs, according to General Eisenkot’s strategy document.

Of course, the Democrats have controlled the White House for seven years and were therefore in a position to take the lead on such efforts. No doubt a Republican president would continue many of them. But tearing up the agreement with Tehran, and thereby practically guaranteeing that Iran would continue an unrestrained nuclear programme, would seem a mystifying place to start.

Steven Simon is a Visiting Lecturer at Dartmouth College and a Contributing Editor to Survival. He was previously senior director for counter-terrorism on the US National Security Council (NSC) staff during the Clinton administration, and senior director for the Middle East and North Africa on the NSC during the Obama administration.

Mark Fitzpatrick: A nuclear trafficking route to the Levant?

An AP investigative report on 7 October about four nuclear-smuggling cases in Moldova over the past five years offers a reminder about the danger of radioactive materials in the former Soviet Union ending up as bomb ingredients elsewhere in the world.

In more than one sense, there is less here than meets the eye. Three of the four cases illuminated in the AP story, which drew on interviews and footage from Moldova, have been reported before. The newly revealed incident from last winter involved material – caesium-135 – that could not even be used for a radioactive ‘dirty bomb’, much less a nuclear weapon. The material proffered by smugglers in one of the other cases was depleted uranium, which similarly is of no use as bomb material, although it is often used for armour-piercing projectiles.

Fortunately, with one possible exception, none of the cases involved a real customer. More fortunately, this has been the norm in the shadowy field of nuclear smuggling. Any functioning market matches supply with demand, requiring both sellers and buyers. But almost every reported nuclear smuggling case to date has involved only the supply side. Any potential buyers have been exceedingly stealthy. The ‘customers’ that smugglers often think they are dealing with typically turn out to be undercover police agents carrying out sting operations. The only real potential customer in the Moldova cases was a Sudanese doctor who had contracted with the smugglers to purchase conventional weaponry, and who had exchanged Skype messages suggesting an interest in uranium and dirty-bomb blueprints that the smugglers had acquired.

The reason for concern, and why my Wednesday was repeatedly interrupted by interviews at London’s broadcast studios, is that the nuclear-materials supply could contribute to creating a demand. One of the Moldovan middlemen, a former KGB informant, expressed a hatred of the United States and a desire to sell uranium to a Middle Eastern buyer. He was entrapped when the Moldovan police pretended to be from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

In its propaganda journal Dabiq this past May, ISIS claimed that it would be able, within a year, to buy a nuclear weapon, supposedly from Pakistan. As I have written before, the idea that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons can easily be purchased is largely a fantasy. Nor did the Dabiq article suggest ISIS is serious in its intent. The nuclear claim was less about bombs than about bombastic marketing of the ISIS brand.

But the possibility of ISIS acquiring – and using – a dirty bomb cannot be dismissed. The group evinces no moral constraints and is increasingly using chlorine bombs and, recently, mustard gas as well, while reportedly recruiting trained professionals to produce chemical weapons. It would not be much of a jump in terms of either science or conscience to reach for dirty bombs. ISIS may even possess 40kg of low-enriched-uranium compounds that were kept for scientific research at a university north of Mosul, Iraq that the group occupied for several months last year. The uranium was not enriched enough to present a security danger, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, but any dirty bomb using uranium could spread terror, even if not poison.

If ISIS did seek nuclear or radiological weapons (hugely different, of course), it would not be the first terrorist group to be so inclined. The Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo in the early 1990s unsuccessfully tried to buy nuclear weapons amidst the crumbling of the Soviet state. A decade later, al-Qaeda leaders infamously met in Afghanistan with Pakistani former nuclear-weapons scientists to inquire about A-bomb making.

The potential for terrorist demand for nuclear ingredients is reason for concern about the supply route. Most recent incidents of nuclear smuggling have been scams that involved no radioactive material at all despite fanciful smuggler tales of access to alchemic ‘red mercury’ and uranium of little radioactivity. The caesium-135 and depleted uranium proffered by the Modovan smugglers was supposedly a form of initial earnest; the real stuff – caesium-137 and highly enriched uranium (HEU) – purportedly would come later, once buyer credentials were established. In one Moldovan case, however, and other recent cases elsewhere, small quantities of HEU were handed over. The HEU cases are more worrisome because two or more were apparently associated with the same former Soviet facility. This suggests that more HEU from the facility might be on the loose.

Preventing nuclear smuggling and the production of dirty bombs requires ongoing cooperative efforts by the community of nations. This is why US President Barack Obama convened world leaders in 2010 for a Nuclear Security Summit, an event that will be held for the fourth and probably last time next spring, again in Washington. Unfortunately and unreasonably, Russia will not be attending this time. It is another casualty from President Vladimir Putin’s self-estrangement from the West. Russian military action in Georgia and Ukraine has also contributed to a weakening of border controls in Eastern Europe, thereby facilitating nuclear smuggling.

If there is one positive note in this story, it is that Moldovan authorities cooperated with the United States in foiling the incidents in question and nuclear material was not sent southward. So no, there is no nuclear trafficking route to the Levant. Governments must continue to ensure there remains none.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme. His most recent Survival article is 'Iran: A Good Deal', in the October–November 2015 issue.

Matthew Harries: Jeremy Corbyn doesn't go nuclear

Something remarkable happened in British politics on Wednesday; something that has not happened for a generation. The leader of the opposition, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn – who would, as things stand, become prime minister if Labour were to win the 2020 general election – said that there were no circumstances under which he would authorise the use of nuclear weapons.

In doing so, he accelerated the arrival of a confrontation that some had predicted would occur next year, when Parliament votes on whether or not to proceed with the renewal of Britain’s Trident-based nuclear-weapons system. Jeremy Corbyn is resolutely opposed to Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons, even though Labour’s last five election manifestos have said that Britain should retain its arsenal until such time as global disarmament becomes realistic. That policy was effectively reaffirmed this week, when Labour decided against debating Trident (as the programme as a whole is colloquially known) at its annual conference.

Corbyn’s position upon becoming party leader was that he would not insist on support from his shadow cabinet on this issue, only that they should be willing to engage in debate. But the party appears collectively to have resolved – spurred by the trade unions, which view Trident as a valuable source of industrial jobs – not to revise its stance, at least for the moment.

The confrontation is this: Corbyn’s opposition to the renewal of Trident is one thing, and is in theory an issue on which a dispute between him and the rest of his party could be workable. But Corbyn’s opposition to the use of nuclear weapons, and, crucially, his willingness to make this explicit in public, is an unbridgeable gap.

To understand why, consider this scenario: in 2016, Corbyn permits a free vote amongst the parliamentary Labour party on Trident renewal. The majority of the party votes in favour of Britain retaining the nuclear deterrent; Corbyn and some of his allies join the Scottish National Party and some Liberal Democrats in voting against. The Conservatives vote as a bloc in favour and, commanding a parliamentary majority in any case, win decisively. The work to build four new nuclear-armed submarines begins. Now let us imagine that Corbyn is still Labour Party leader in the run-up to the 2020 general election. If he has not managed by then to change the party’s collective stance, he will be stuck: Britain will be building a nuclear-weapons delivery system that the prospective prime minister has declared he is not willing to use.

Jeremy Corbyn is not the first Labour leader to be on the record as opposing nuclear use – both Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock at various points were similarly resolved. But those leaders had the backing of the party; and when Kinnock’s position later changed, the shift was over a long enough period to make his commitment to nuclear deterrence somewhat believable. For Corbyn, things are different: if he were to campaign for the 2020 general election saying that he had reconsidered, who would believe him? Thousands of pages have been written about the difficulties of communicating credibility in deterrence. But what happens when a nuclear-weapon state’s leader has said he will not threaten nuclear retaliation at all?

All of which explains why Jeremy Corbyn’s words on Wednesday – even though perhaps unsurprising from a lifelong advocate for disarmament – were so remarkable. Before then, it was just about conceivable that Corbyn could have been a reluctant nuclear deterrer: personally opposed, but pledging to accept the judgement of his party and of parliament. Now that escape – which would have been a high-wire act anyway – is out of reach. In response, Maria Eagle, Corbyn’s own shadow defence secretary, mustered up a piece of British understatement: ‘I don't think that a potential prime minister answering a question like that, in the way in which he did, is helpful’.

Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS. He can be followed on Twitter at @harries_matthew.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Ten ways to build on the Iran nuclear deal

Once the Iran nuclear accord survived the 60-day US Congressional review period, attention turned to how to prevent Iran from cheating and how to constrain its problematic behaviour in other areas. Less ink has been spilt, however, on how to expand on the deal to further reduce nuclear dangers and regional instability. Call me Pollyanna, but here are ten ways to build on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

1. Promote nuclear safety. Now that Iran is accepting international norms for transparency in nuclear safeguards, it has no reason not to accept global standards of transparency in nuclear safety. Iran’s failure to date to join the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Convention on Nuclear Safety – as every other state operating a nuclear power reactor has done – is of no little concern to its neighbours. An accident at the Bushehr reactor would send more radiation towards Gulf Arab capitals than it would towards Tehran. Iran should reassure the Gulf states by adopting the highest standard of nuclear safety and by inviting neighbours to participate in nuclear-safety peer reviews.

2. Promote nuclear security. For understandable reasons, Iran has not been invited to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) process. Once leadership in this field reverts to the IAEA upon completion of the last NSS in Washington next spring, Iran will play a role in the discussions. Its voice will hold more authority if it accedes to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the 2005 amendment to this convention. Fortunately, the United States itself finally ratified the amendment in July, and thus is in a stronger moral position to join other major powers in encouraging Iran to do likewise.

3. Build on Russian cooperation in the JCPOA. Moscow’s constructive role in the Iran nuclear negotiations was a rare area of cooperation with Western nations in the nuclear field. Although there was reason to think Russia’s national interests might be better served by keeping the Iran issue festering, it steadfastly held to a united front among the six major powers, giving Iran no opening to try to play them off against one another. Nuclear safety and security involving Iran are natural areas for continued cooperation among the six powers.

4. Make JCPOA verification measures the global norm. Iran’s acceptance of the Additional Protocol should give momentum to the push for this instrument to be mandatory for all states. At a minimum, the United States should make adherence to the Additional Protocol it a condition for future nuclear cooperation agreements. As I noted in the current edition of Survival, the Iran nuclear accord also went beyond the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Additional Protocol in several ways, setting useful precedents. The weaponisation work prohibited in the JCPOA should be regarded as part of the prohibition on nuclear-arms production that is outlawed by Article I of the NPT. Similarly, it should be recognised that the IAEA has a right and responsibility beyond the Iran case to verify nuclear-weaponisation work that does not necessarily include nuclear material. In addition, the ban on Iranian reprocessing and production of highly enriched uranium supports global efforts to stop fissile-material production.

5. Ban nuclear testing. The next natural step Iran can take to burnish non-proliferation credentials would be to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Elsewhere in the region, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be similarly encouraged – as should the United States, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea, so that the CTBT can come into force. It is probably unrealistic to think that these three might coordinate ratification, although almost nothing would better serve the goal of a nuclear-weapons free zone in the region, which at least Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have long promoted

6. Restrain missile development cooperatively. Iran’s worrisome development of longer-range missile systems might best be checked by a multi-party agreement that imposes mutual limits. A Middle East equivalent to the Treaty on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces between the US and Russia, as proposed by my colleague Michael Elleman, might target systems that fly over 3,000 km. Such a limit would preserve the systems Israel and Iran currently possess, but prevent systems that could threaten Europe and the United States. Meanwhile, keeping Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) constraints in place on Iran would effectively would mean that even after UN Security Council restrictions on missile development are removed in eight years, Iran still would not be able to benefit from international commerce in this field.

7. Maintain global restrictions on enrichment. The concession to legitimise uranium enrichment in Iran was necessary to strike a deal that limited this capability. It should not be used as an excuse for other states to pursue dual-use technologies that are not necessary for civilian nuclear programmes. The United Arab Emirates, for example, has no legal or strategic case for changing its position of forgoing enrichment and reprocessing. The United States should continue to promote this so-called ‘gold standard’ in its nuclear cooperation agreements. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines should maintain the restriction on transfer of this technology if there is a concern it will be used for proliferation purposes.

8. Prevent onward proliferation. There is legitimate concern, but no substantiated evidence, of nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Iran. Intelligence monitoring, the Proliferation Security Initiative, financial tracking and other counter-proliferation tools must be kept sharp to detect and block such illicit collaboration. Should any of Iran’s neighbours seek weapons-related technologies that they cannot obtain from NSG states, intelligence agencies must be on guard lest North Korea be approached as a black-market alternative.

9. Make use of new communication channels. Thanks to the nuclear negotiations, senior Iran and US officials communicated regularly for the first time in a generation. These communication channels have already proven to be useful in other areas. For example, Secretary of State John Kerry persuaded Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in April to turn around a ship convoy bound for Yemen, and later to use Iran’s influence with the Houthis to encourage them join ceasefire talks.

10. Foster transformational opportunities. Given the secular aspirations of its youthful population and the expectations for change that have been spurred by the nuclear accord, Iran may be on the cusp of positive political change. Watchful outsiders should not count on this, of course, but nor should they take steps that would impede it. As measures are adopted to constrain hegemonic Iranian activity, care should be exercised not to gratuitously insult the Iranian nation nor to overlook chances for fruitful dialogue.  Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself seems to be of two minds about further engagement. In April he suggested the possibility of negotiating on other issues with the United States, while in September he railed against dealing with the ‘Great Satan’. Like John F. Kennedy did in responding to mixed messages from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis, let’s choose the message that maximises peaceful outcomes.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme. This blog post draws on a presentation he gave at an Iran futures workshop in Wye, Maryland on 25 September, organised by the Nuclear Security Working Group.

Elizabeth Pond: Will Ukraine snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

The good news from Ukraine is that after half a year of intensive shelling across the Donbas ‘truce’ line, the big guns went silent on 1 September and have stayed silent ever since.

Russia has reined in the hotheads among its proxy separatists in eastern Ukraine who wanted to keep on fighting and seize more Ukrainian territory with the superior heavy weapons Moscow has showered on Donbas over the past year. Russia has also just initialled a deal to resume gas supplies to Ukraine at a competitive price over the winter months. And it has returned to Tallinn the Estonian security officer it kidnapped at gunpoint on Estonian soil a year ago, after first jailing him and sentencing him to 15 years for alleged spying.

At long last, then, Russian President Vladimir Putin's unwonted charm offensive in the Ukraine crisis makes Kiev’s race for a Western identity Ukraine’s to lose.

The bad news, however, is that Kiev may in fact manage to lose in the new peace what it gained in adversity, just as its forerunner Orange Revolution did a decade ago. Then, pro-democracy Euromaidan protesters forced a rerun of fraudulent elections to win Ukraine's presidency and a parliamentary majority for the first time since Ukraine became independent in 1991, only to destroy themselves through infighting at the top. Now, as Putin suspends his undeclared war on Ukraine, the original shock of that attack is already wearing off. The fear of more Russian land grabs that forced a core of Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs to cooperate in self-defence over the past year and a half has vanished. Political fratricide is back. Corruption as usual has resumed, albeit with fewer pots of state gold to plunder. The crucial political and legal reforms that President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk began are stalling.

This may seem like harsh judgment of a land that has already achieved miracles in the midst of its existential war. Within months it turned last year’s underfunded ragtag army of only 6,000 deployable soldiers into forces that fought well and came close to defeating Russian-armed rebel fighters – until Moscow sent in its own elite troops to bail out its proxies in August 2014. Millionaire Ukrainian tycoons financed formidable private militias that bore the brunt of battle in Donbas. The extraordinary civil society that the Euromaidan demonstrations spawned rallied to supply what the state did not; volunteers knitted socks and even imitation fibre vests to clothe and protect Ukraine’s defenders.

Politically, Ukrainians improvised an interim government after Putin’s henchman Victor Yanukovich failed to quell the Maidan demonstrators by having a hundred of them shot, and then fled into exile in Russia in February 2014. Voters, under the gun, nonetheless elected and legitimised a new president in May and a new parliament in October 2014. And the new parliament passed a series of urgently needed reform laws to curb graft, probe the murky energy sector and begin building nascent democratic institutions. Moreover, under Putin’s threat Ukrainians – for the first time in their history – forged consensus on a national identity as distinct from Russian and allied instead to European identity.

As peace breaks out, however, the heavily armed 9,000 Russian soldiers in Donbas and 50,000 others still massed just over the Russian border no longer seem menacing to Kiev – and the will to root out corruption and implement tough reform of Ukraine's post-Soviet kleptocracy is ebbing proportionately. In recent days former US ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer and current US ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt have both warned Kiev politicians publicly to stop squabbling and press on with reforms.

Pifer hailed ‘the most reform-minded cabinet in Ukraine’s history’, but charged that ‘oligarchs continue to play an outsized and unhealthy role in the country’s politics…Some politicians are turning to populism…The key relationship between Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk is fragile’. Voters are disenchanted with the sluggish reform: ‘The post-Maidan honeymoon is over.’

More bluntly, Ambassador Pyatt declared: ‘Corruption kills…Ukraine can, and must, address the problem of corruption now…Rather than supporting Ukraine’s reforms and working to root out corruption, corrupt actors within the Prosecutor General’s office are making things worse by openly and aggressively undermining reform. In defiance of Ukraine’s leaders, these bad actors regularly hinder efforts to investigate and prosecute corrupt officials within the prosecutor general’s office.’

Even more acerbically, Taras Kuzio, senior fellow at the University of Alberta's Institute of Ukrainian Studies, pans the Kiev government's entire record on fighting corruption. Ukraine claims that 2,702 former officials have been convicted of corruption, he writes, but won't reveal their names. The ‘billionaire-cum-politician Poroshenko’ has failed to ‘follow through on his promises to combat the pervasive influence of the oligarchs…The business empires of Yanukovich’s allies, including his eldest son Oleksandr, are still in place in eastern Ukraine, and they continue to profit from them.’ The Interior Ministry is ‘bloated, corrupt, and incompetent … The prosecutor’s office, massively over-manned and itself corrupt to the core, has remained virtually untouched. Poroshenko has compounded the problem by appointing incompetent and corrupt chief prosecutors who quickly discredited themselves through inaction or by defending their corrupt colleagues…Pro-Russian forces and oligarchs are untouched by Ukraine’s corrupt judicial system and remain as powerful as before.’

A comparison with the implosion of the Orange Revolution of 2004 is sobering. Then as now, euphoria reigned after pro-European Maidan protests forced a repeat election and Victor Yushchenko became president. For a few fleeting months fear of a Russian-backed Yanukovich restoration forced the oligarchs – who had become rich by buying privatised state assets cheaply in sweetheart political deals – to negotiate seriously about going legitimate, paying their taxes and redeeming their debt to society by good social and charitable works. Unfortunately, however, Yushchenko and his co-leader at Maidan, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, had a bitter falling-out. The feud paralysed the government, halted the evolution of robber barons into civic benefactors, reinstated backroom crony capitalism, disgusted the public and handed the presidency back to Yanukovich, this time in a fair election. That moment of transformation was lost.

So far today’s infighting among politicians and oligarchs has not reached the destructive nadir of a decade ago. But the tensions are clear. The small nationalist right includes hardliners who want to keep on fighting Russians in Donbas despite the formal year-long truce and the folly of provoking Putin's huge army. Most spectacularly, a month ago the right staged a violent protest outside parliament against devolving power to the separatist territory in the east, as agreed on in the German-led ‘Minsk’ truces of September 2014 and February 2015. Three National Guardsmen were killed when a veteran of the eastern front threw a grenade at them, and some hundred policemen were injured in the mêlée that followed.

The ongoing political feuds at the top are more dangerous. President Poroshenko is letting his protégé, ex-Georgian president and present Odesa governor Mikheil Saakashvili, run a campaign to topple Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, whose popular support has in any case eroded to 2–3%. Oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky – who was fired from his post as Dnipropetrovsk governor last March by Poroshenko after armed men from Kolomoisky’s private militia occupied the buildings of Ukraine’s largest gas and oil extracting company – is campaigning actively against the president. Yulia Tymoshenko – the main protagonist in the feud that doomed the earlier Orange Revolution and now a member of parliament – has told confidants that she expects President Poroshenko’s party to lose heavily in the upcoming local elections and pave the way for early presidential elections in the spring, which she will win.

The good news, then, is the same as the bad news: Ukraine’s vaunted adoption of a Western identity is now Kiev’s to lose.

Elizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based journalist and author. She has contributed several articles to Survival, most recently ‘Serbia Reinvents Itself’, in vol. 55, no. 4, August–September 2013, pp. 7–30.

Massimo Franco: A Latin American Pope Arrives

For months, Pope Francis has been telling his closest advisers that he wants to arrive in the United States via the south of the American continent. Now he is following through on that symbolic geography. The Pope’s 22–27 September visit to the United States matters in both strategic and domestic terms. Touching US soil after a three-day stop in Cuba is already a remarkable novelty. It is as if Pope Francis wants to show that his horizons are broader than just Washington, the White House and the United Nations. In all, it is a reminder that he is a Latin American pontiff: a moral and possibly political leader of South America, keen to reaffirm his role as mediator between President Barack Obama and Raúl Castro’s ailing communist regime. US diplomats admit that they were taken quite by surprise by the decision of this Argentinian Pope, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, to visit Havana en route.

Francis’s strategy is to rid the world of relics of the Cold War; to do what it takes to avoid a new one; and continue in alliance with a US-led West – but not prejudicially. It is not just a matter of geopolitics: primarily, it is geo-religion. For the Catholic Church, the division between West and East, democracy and communism, the US and the Soviet Union had direct consequences within the episcopates.

In the second half of the last century, the Catholic world was squeezed in Latin America by the dramatic choice between sustaining (or at least not opposing) military authoritarian regimes, often backed by the US, or embracing Marxist-leaning liberation theology. Facing this choice provoked tension and conflict within the Latin American Catholic community. And Francis himself was both an observer and a victim of this self-destructive spiral. The elaboration by the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires of a ‘theology of the people’, an original Argentinian (and Peronist) version of liberation theology – and an anti-communist one, too – was an attempt to heal episcopates, in the first instance, as well as Latin American societies.

The fact that Francis has opened a dialogue with former liberation theologians does not mean he is a convert. He considers Marxism dead, and incapable these days of doing much damage. His goal is a new alliance based on different premises and cultural paradigms; and an alliance made with the leadership of the Catholic Church, not with Marxist caudillos. But in the US, conservatives went immediately on the attack. ‘The Holy Father is a native of 20th-century Argentina,’ wrote Mary Anastasia O’Grady in the Wall Street Journal, ‘ideologically defined by nationalism, socialism, corporatism and anti-Americanism.’ She quoted Mexican historian Enrique Krauze, for whom ‘Latin Americanism, especially in the South, was also anti-Yankeeism.’

These convictions are the source of the accusation that Francis is peddling Marxism. But the accusation also stems from an inability to understand Bergoglio’s roots and personal experience; to admit the existence of an ‘alternative West’; and to recognise the Pope’s long hostility to communism. Social opening does not mean Marxism. The third way between socialism and capitalism has always been the beacon of the Catholic Church – which prefers the latter, as a guarantee of religious freedom.

For more on the challenges facing Pope Francis, read 'Within the Sacred Walls', Massimo Franco's review essay in the October–November 2014 issue of Survival.

Massimo Franco is a political columnist for the leading Italian daily Corriere della Sera. He is the author of The Crisis in the Vatican Empire (Mondadori, 2013) and The Vatican According to Francis: From Buenos Aires to Santa Marta (Mondador, 2014). An updated edition of Parallel Empires: The Vatican and the US, Two Centuries of Alliance and Conflict, will soon be published by Corriere della Sera.

Avis Bohlen: Iran – An Opening for Diplomacy?

Negotiation is an essential tool of diplomacy, as weapons are of war. The recently concluded Iran deal represents a major diplomatic achievement arrived at by long and patient negotiation. Its significance is likely to go far beyond the terms of the accord itself and must be judged in a broader diplomatic and strategic context. The Iran nuclear deal is important first and foremost for the stringent limits it places on Iran’s nuclear programmes – the principal goal of the negotiations. US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been quick to deny that expectations of broader detente were in any way the premise for the negotiation. But the agreement does, in fact, have the potential to open up the frozen dialogue between the US and Iran and permit a broader discussion of urgent regional issues. This potential unblocking of the relationship could be one of the agreement’s great rewards.

The principal features of the Iran nuclear deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), have been amply discussed elsewhere. Coming into the negotiations, Iran possessed a large stockpile of enriched uranium and some 20,000 centrifuges. Before the E3/EU+3 and Iran concluded the November 2013 interim deal, Iran was rapidly expanding its centrifuge capacity at a rate of 700 per month, and was preparing to operate even more capable centrifuges. It possesses an underground uranium-enrichment facility at Fordow that is less vulnerable to airstrikes, and was about a year or so away from completing a heavy-water reactor at Arak that would potentially provide a plutonium path to a nuclear weapon. According to US estimates, Iran possesses enough uranium (if enriched further) to produce eight to ten bombs. Its breakout time (the time it would need to produce enough uranium enriched to the 90% U-235 level needed for a nuclear weapon) was estimated at two to three months.

The JCPOA will effectively block Iran’s multiple pathways to a nuclear weapon for the next 15 years. Tehran has agreed to give up 98% of its enriched-uranium stockpile and limit the residual stockpile to 300kg for 15 years. Its number of centrifuges will be reduced by two-thirds. Furthermore, the agreement delays the introduction of more advanced centrifuges; bans any enrichment at Fordow for the duration of the agreement; requires the destruction of the core of the heavy-water reactor at Arak; and puts in place intrusive verification measures that go far beyond what was possible under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and even the Additional Protocol to its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreement, effectively blocking a covert path to the development of a nuclear weapon. The JCPOA also permanently prohibits activities that could contribute to the design and development of a nuclear device. In short, the terms of the agreement are comprehensive and verifiable and will reduce the time it would take Iran to acquire enough highly enriched uranium to make a bomb from a few months to at least a year. Should Iran fail to live up to its side of the bargain, ‘snapback’ provisions will allow the immediate reimposition of sanctions.

The agreement is, of course, being stridently attacked in certain quarters in the US. Interestingly, critics have not, for the most part, argued that either the constraints on the programme or the stringent monitoring requirements would be ineffective. Rather, they have first of all criticised the limited duration of the agreement: when the limitations on civilian nuclear capacity expire in 15 years, Iran will be theoretically free to resume its centrifuge production. Many have criticised the agreement because it did not impose a total ban on all enrichment activities by Iran. Finally, critics have argued that the JCPOA failed to deal with other contentious issues in relations with Iran such as human rights.

Unquestionably, the JCPOA is far from perfect. It could hardly be otherwise. Both sides made compromises to come to an agreement and both sides moved further from their initial positions than they would have expected at the outset. Iranian redlines were reportedly crossed. Security issues, notoriously intractable and sensitive, were at the heart of the negotiation on all sides. For Tehran, there were hard trade-offs between restricting the prized nuclear programme that it regards as a vital interest, and the lifting of the onerous sanctions that are crippling its economy. Security issues were at stake for the other participants too: preventing a nuclear-armed Iran and thus lessening the danger of conflict in the Middle East, reducing the threat to Israel, as well as the risk of further proliferation in an already-turbulent region.

The limited duration of the agreement is unquestionably its biggest shortcoming, although many of the allegations about how quickly Iran could break out and develop a nuclear weapon after 15 years are overblown. (Certain stringent monitoring requirements will remain in place for longer, for example on production of centrifuge machines for 20 years and on uranium mining and milling for 25.) Under the JCPOA, Iran also commits to permanent international inspections under the terms of the Additional Protocol, which provides for wider access, including timely visits to undeclared sites of concern, whether military or civilian. But it is certainly true that the agreement has not permanently eliminated the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran; there was little prospect of it doing so. Looking at the history of such agreements, this one could fail in many ways. We can expect further wrangling over the timing of the lifting of sanctions relative to Iran’s implementation of its side of the agreement. It will not eliminate, though it may lessen, the danger of regional nuclear proliferation. Agreements involving nuclear issues are notoriously vulnerable to political winds on the home front. The internal political dynamics of Iran are murky to say the least; if the fruits of the agreement appear too meagre, hardliners in Tehran may gain the upper hand and seek to reverse it. The much-touted absence of a withdrawal clause would not prevent Iran, a sovereign nation, from acting in its own perceived best interests. The possibility that Iran might find ways of cheating despite the stringent monitoring provisions cannot be ruled out. We may never get satisfactory answers to our questions about its possible weaponisation practices. In short, we may have to live with more uncertainty than we would like; opponents of the agreement in both the US and Iran will exploit the inevitable difficult moments.

So there is certainly risk. We do not trust the Iranians and they do not trust us. Arms-control or nuclear-limitation agreements are not concluded between friends and allies, but between adversaries. At this point, Iran remains more adversary than partner.

But, as advocates have compellingly pointed out, not going through with the JCPOA presents greater risks. Without the constraints of an agreement, Iran could continue to produce centrifuges at a rapid rate. It would be free to move to a new and more powerful generation of centrifuges. It could restart its weaponisation programmes. Development of the heavy-water reactor at Arak would move forward, giving the Iranians a plutonium path to a nuclear weapon. All of this – coupled with the uncertainty, in the absence of a tight verification regime, of not knowing – would increase tensions.

If the US blocks the agreement, we will be isolated. Our allies and partners are unlikely to acquiesce in the careless rejection of an agreement so painstakingly arrived at; nor would they – especially the Russians and the Chinese – be inclined to maintain the stringent sanctions that were crucial to bringing the Iranians to negotiate seriously. We would be back where we were two years ago, but in reality worse off, without any hope of a successful agreement and more importantly without leverage. Meanwhile, as Iran moved ahead with acquiring more centrifuges and ever more enriched uranium, there would be, for want of any other options, a drumbeat of calls for military action. As has often been pointed out, airstrikes would do no more than retard the programme for a year or two at best and guarantee that Tehran regarded a nuclear weapon as a vital necessity. We would have once again marched into a dead end. And our credibility with allies and partners alike would be seriously compromised. Opponents argue that a better deal is available, and some of them may even believe this. But it is a fantasy. The Iranians would not return to the negotiating table. Our allies and partners would not follow us. It would be a different ball game.

Risk and opportunity

There is, however, an additional argument for the JCPOA. If the agreement carries some risk, it also creates potential opportunities. For at least 15 years, the nuclear issue has been the central obstacle in our relations with Iran, effectively standing in the way of any broader dialogue between the US and one of the most important countries in the Middle East. In freezing Iran’s nuclear programme for 15 years, we have accepted some risk but more importantly we have bought time and may have created new openings. We should be wary of predicting any kind of a breakthrough. From the US perspective, major obstacles stand in the way of improved relations with Tehran: Iranian support for terrorism, in particular Hizbullah and Hamas; its public calls for the destruction of the state of Israel; its support for the Assad regime in Syria; its disregard for human rights; and indeed the regime itself and its deep-rooted antagonism towards the US, the ‘Great Satan’. Obama and Kerry have been at pains to disavow any larger ambition than that of freezing Iran’s nuclear programme. Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei has similarly been quick to emphasise that Iranian relations with the US will not change, and that Iranian policy will continue to support Hizbullah, Hamas and the Syrian regime.

Nevertheless, much can happen in 15 years. A lifting of sanctions will begin to bring Iran back into the world economy with unforeseen consequences. It is estimated that sanctions relief will greatly boost Iran’s oil exports and substantially increase GDP. Khamenei notwithstanding, some leading figures in Iran, including President Hassan Rouhani, have made no secret of their hope that the nuclear agreement will lead to a broader dialogue. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif specifically said to Kerry, ‘If we get this finished, I am now empowered to work with and talk to you about regional issues’. The US side certainly has similar hopes. There is an urgent list of regional issues – beginning with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and Syria – on which the two countries might engage. It would certainly be imprudent to venture too far into further speculation at this point. But it is not impossible to hope that a calming of fears on the nuclear front – the knowledge that Iran is not racing for a bomb – may help to ease some of the tensions between Iran and its neighbours. The regional ambitions of Iran and other Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia, will certainly continue to conflict. It will take a great deal more to lessen Israel’s very understandable fears of Iran. But the nuclear dimension will be in abeyance. In short, the nuclear deal may help to break the ice in the long-frozen Iranian–US relationship.

Finding common ground

The Cold War was a vastly different era but there are points of similarity. The results of long years of US–Soviet arms-control negotiations were a mixed bag at best, as I have written elsewhere; until the Gorbachev–Reagan era these agreements did little to control the arms race or to limit expenditure on nuclear weapons. They were important nevertheless because they initiated a dialogue between the two superpowers on nuclear issues that continued on and off for three decades. In a world living with the threat of nuclear war, the very fact of these discussions helped to calm fears. In a larger sense, they created a climate in which other discussions could proceed. As with the Soviet Union, we face in Tehran a fundamentally antagonistic regime whose hostility is durably rooted in ideology. History suggests that while this will preclude close relationships, it need not be an obstacle to finding common ground on a limited range of issues of mutual interest.

An important difference is that even at the height of the Cold War, we had an embassy in Moscow, with trained diplomats who spoke Russian and were experts on the Soviet Union. The day we establish an embassy in Tehran is regrettably probably far off. (It seems fashionable, if bizarre, to see the establishment of diplomatic relations as a ‘reward’ to the country in question.) There is no doubt, however, that the absence of diplomatic representation on the spot has deprived us of a valuable diplomatic tool. Embassies are no guarantee of good relations but there is no substitute for an on-the-spot listening and observation post.

Many critics of the agreement allege they are not against a deal with Iran, but believe that we should go back to the negotiating table and hold out for a better one. (We should perhaps count it as progress that they are least using the rhetoric of negotiation rather than military force.) Some, however, are well aware that the notion of a better deal is fantasy. Their goal, consciously or not, is to torpedo any negotiation with Iran – any agreement, any opening, any dialogue. A long-standing American tradition of suspicion of diplomacy remains alive and well in certain neoconservative circles. This tradition resists negotiation with morally abhorrent regimes such as Iran (or North Korea or the Soviet Union), the thinking being that negotiation creates pressure for an agreement, which in turn creates pressures for compromise. Negotiation requires us to interact with these regimes and in doing so we give them legitimacy. An agreement creates ambiguity and risk and muddies the ‘moral clarity’ (a cherished phrase) of our stance. In this view, any agreement with those who do not share our values is inherently impermanent and bound to fall apart. Better therefore to avoid negotiation or meaningful dialogue in the first place. This path, unfortunately, takes us into a blind alley from which the only lasting exit can be regime change, more often than not requiring the application of force. Since the beginning of this century we have seen too often where this path will lead. It is at a minimum strewn with missed opportunities.

The Iran nuclear deal is a triumph for diplomacy, a reaffirmation of the view that complex issues should be resolved wherever possible through dialogue and discussion rather than through confrontation. It built upon many months of quiet diplomacy laying the groundwork for a serious negotiation; many months of patient bargaining by the diplomats of six countries (including, on the US side, the able team led by Wendy Sherman); and the constant effort necessary to maintain a common position with our European allies as well as Russia and China – not exactly our best friends at the moment. Agreement would not have been reached, it need hardly be said, without the formidable commitment of time and energy by Kerry and not least of all the political will and support shown by Obama. In our America-centric view of the world, we often overlook the contributions made by our negotiating partners; but these were often significant. But of course without the US there would have been no deal.

The agreement represented a choice to follow this uncertain road rather than the equally uncertain and far more dangerous road of confrontation. It has created possible openings for further diplomacy and it will be up to the diplomats to explore these openings and carry them forward. The goal of good diplomacy is to increase one’s options and expand one’s room for manoeuvre. The Iran deal may well have done just that.

This commentary will appear in the October–November 2015 issue of Survival.

Avis Bohlen is a retired US diplomat. Among other positions, she served as Assistant Secretary for Arms Control (1999–2002) and Ambassador to Bulgaria (1996–99).

Thomas C. Moore: Iran – Non-Proliferation Overshadowed

The world’s major powers once agreed that Iran was no place for uranium enrichment or the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. United after 9/11 and the jarring revelation of the A.Q. Khan proliferation network, they worked to defeat nuclear proliferation and terrorism – and the nexus of the two in Iran – without military force. They launched criteria-of-supply negotiations in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG); a moratorium on transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technology to new countries in what was then the G8; passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1887, and others demanding Iran suspend its nuclear programme; a coalition for proliferation interdiction called the Proliferation Security Initiative; assurances of nuclear-fuel supply, fuel banks and spent-fuel return, in Russia and with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); and new treaties, as well as amendments to existing ones, designed to interdict and defeat nuclear trafficking.

The non-military non-proliferation deeds of the first decade of this century are now overshadowed by the July 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. The tools that succeeded beyond all other non-military means in changing Iran’s behaviour were the sanctions this deal abolishes. The innovation of those sanctions was that they were not only aimed at states proliferating to Iran, or designed to apply after an Iranian nuclear test. They targeted Iran’s crown jewels of oil and other natural resources, industries and their exports, financing, shipping and banking infrastructure – including people and corporate entities – to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The heart of the deal is the abolition of sanctions in exchange for extending Iran’s breakout time (the length of time it would take to produce material for a nuclear weapon) for a limited period. A better approach would have kept Iran at the table for years, with progressive waiving of sanctions and a corresponding continuation of limits Iran had agreed to extend a number of times already. A better approach would have aimed for more than a year’s breakout time – a duration of relevance to the negotiating countries too, should they need time to enforce an agreement with any means other than war. The sanctions that now remain will not be effective in changing Iran’s behaviour. Iran will be more able to engage in normal arms, nuclear and dual-use technology trade even while it continues its regional military campaigns, and ballistic- and cruise-missile programmes.

Iran did not stop enriching uranium even during the sanctions that brought it to the negotiating table. That does not mean we have to either capitulate or bomb Iran. Nuclear resistance is not only Iranian. It has been Iraqi, Libyan and North Korean, with varying responses in return. But all states intent on acquiring nuclear weapons, when caught, usually hold capability and bargain with it. The Iran deal – more formally, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – is a bad bargain. Because it ends the best sanctions and its nuclear concessions are too large, it will lead to more arguments among its negotiating parties, and other nations quite apart from Iran. Where it applies limits to Iran’s activities, it does so on a temporary and infirm basis. It will grow, not freeze or roll back, the problem.

Sanctions gone

The remaining US nuclear sanctions punish proliferation from one state to another, and can freeze all foreign assistance when a state detonates a bomb. The JCPOA unlocks supplies of technology and money to Iran, and old US laws are ineffective because they have the wrong target – proliferation to and from states, not, as now to be seen in Iran, within one. Even if these old laws are effective on occasion, they are unilateral, and the JCPOA, by permitting Iran access to dual-use nuclear, missile and military weapons technology – the coordinated relaxation so praised in the deal – will result in disconcerting global arguments over exports to Iran within the JCPOA’s Joint Commission, the IAEA and the UN Security Council.

The unblocking of accounts and unfreezing of US assets, as well as more generous terms for crude oil, will free up credit and hard currency for Iran. Considering just the funds the JCPOA’s sanctions abolition may repatriate to the Iranian Central Bank, almost $60 billion will come home to Tehran. That is nearly twice the total amount of worldwide US foreign economic assistance in 2012. If America tries to halt atomic progress in Iran, whether under the JCPOA, in the IAEA or in the UN Security Council, it will have a hard time doing so if its own laws are the basis for attempting international cooperation. 

Moreover, the American laws in which executive non-proliferation sanctions authority resides are inadequate. The US International Emergency Economic Powers Act, allowing the president to use emergency powers to keep executive-order sanctions and embargoes in place with few challenges in US courts, expired long ago and is continued on the basis of executive order. Because of US export-control reform, the American Arms Export Control Act and its implementing regulations are permissive: many items formerly controlled by the United States as significant military equipment and major defence equipment that are now designated as commercial military equipment will find their way from Europe to Iran. Even the Iran Sanctions Act is set to expire in 2016. The US Atomic Energy and Nuclear Nonproliferation acts date back to a time when America was a reactor supplier to Iran. Reform has relaxed export controls to Europe and China more than at any time since sanctions on proliferation were augmented under the US Enhanced Proliferation Control Initiative on states proliferating to Iraq in the 1990s.

Conceding ground

The deal’s primary concession is to permit Iran to have a national uranium-enrichment capability, which the JCPOA will allow to grow over time. Iran will never have been forced to abandon enrichment – neither before nor during the deal, and certainly not after it. Its enrichment capacity will dramatically increase in the JCPOA’s later stages. Iran retains a research and development programme to make faster and more reliable centrifuges, though monitored and not permitted to be for the purpose of enriching uranium. Iran would also have much more unseparated plutonium on hand if it were to jettison the Non-Proliferation Treaty, owing to deals with its existing reactor supplier, Russia, and new reactors from China – quite apart from that produced by the Arak heavy-water reactor, even as modified. In fact, Iran will add hundreds more significant quantities (bombs’ worth) of unseparated plutonium, annually, to the global stockpile of spent fuel. For now, most of that spent fuel will return to Russia, but reprocessing, while easier to detect than enrichment, is not barred by the NPT – and Russia is no longer a reliable international partner for the West.

The JCPOA, secondly, is a temporary limitation assumed by Iran only on a voluntary basis, thus increasing regional proliferation tension. The JCPOA gives this away with reference to the ‘broader conclusion’ about Iran’s programme that, if reached by the IAEA, would lead to the lifting of all European Union proliferation-related sanctions and Iranian ratification of the Additional Protocol. Who else might want a broader conclusion? Saudi Arabia has never clarified its own civilian nuclear aspirations, alongside the proliferation hints it has made in response to Iran.

Thirdly, the physical reduction of items and material, and the upper limit on the number of sites, facilities and locations in Iran where it can continue its nuclear activities and spin centrifuges, rely on what is already known about Iran’s programme. Access to undeclared (as well as decommissioned) sites is not ‘anytime, anywhere’, as had been expected. Even if an argument over managed access to an undeclared facility is confined to 24 days, what then? The JCPOA has built a month’s delay into an agreement that sets Iran’s breakout time at one year. Moreover, the managed-access provision harms, rather than helps, the Additional Protocol. That agreement’s ‘complementary’ access provision is a significant innovation over comprehensive safeguards agreements’ rarely used ‘special inspections’. All three of these mechanisms can be carried out in Iran, under its safeguards agreements and the JCPOA. But by delaying ratification of its Additional Protocol, Iran has made sure that access to military sites rests on voluntary agreements. For its most sensitive sites, this means only managed access.

Under the JCPOA, IAEA verification activities in Iran designed to resolve concerns about activities of a possible military dimension end on 15 October 2015. Depending on what happens on that date, Iran’s arrangements may not be substantially different than the voluntary-offer safeguards and additional protocols the IAEA has agreed with nuclear-weapons states. Moreover, even if a managed-access inspection at a decommissioned military site in Iran takes place, Iran can hide co-located installations within facilities and locations the IAEA cannot inspect. It appears, from what has been reported of Iran’s agreement with the IAEA on activities of a possible military dimension, that inspections could take place only to end up with ambiguous results, wrongly confirming, to Iran’s benefit, the absence of such activities.

What is more, blithe assertions of the United States’ (or another intelligence community’s) ability to detect violations ignore the fact that acting on information gained from covert or national-technical means relies on the credibility of the nation declassifying and leaking intelligence. As such, this information is prone to multilateral challenge from states that did not share in its collection. The United States attempted this kind of counter-proliferation with flawed intelligence about Iraq, and failed to convince. What makes the deal’s supporters confident that it would have the necessary credibility to stop Iran?

Lastly, Iran will have a reduced stockpile of 300kg of uranium hexafluoride and other chemical forms, enriched to 3.67% U235; 5,060 first-generation centrifuges; and its stockpile of triuranium octoxide enriched to 20% will be reduced and eliminated. These limits do not all occur at once, but over time – and then only for a limited period. These numbers result from negotiators prioritising the goal of a year’s breakout time, based on declared sites and using declared material. But, in failing to achieve in a binding way – before the deal comes into effect – an additional protocol, an IAEA ‘broader conclusion’ and resolution of the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme, the deal’s sequencing and mixing of voluntary and binding measures risks encouraging proliferation, in Iran and elsewhere in the region.

If Iran is again caught violating its nuclear obligations, this deal has created tripwires for war and virulent nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. In the meantime, arms sales from the negotiating parties will assist their respective regional allies in fighting a number of ongoing wars. Russian arms sales to Iran, in particular, will increase. The current US president has threatened, if the deal is rejected (not if it is violated), a war that would be global in its consequences. Iran will be emboldened to entice that result with its weaker interpretations of the JCPOA.

What is suggested by all of this is, in all candour, risky. To undermine a deal like this imposes another set of challenges, even if the reasons for undermining it are sound. In this vein, the deal has produced uncertainty whether or not it is actually implemented. That uncertainty deters us, not Iran. And it encourages and assists Iran, not us. 

This commentary will appear in the October–November 2015 issue of Survival.

Thomas C. Moore was a Senior Republican Professional Staff Member for arms control, arms sales and non-proliferation in the United States Senate from 2003–13.

Bruno Tertrais: Iran – An Experiment in Strategic Risk-Taking

The luxury of being a policy analyst is that one can afford to say what politicians cannot: ‘it’s complicated’. If I had been voting on the 14 July nuclear deal with Iran, I would have had to abstain.

American and European diplomats worked hard to close most of the avenues and loopholes that Iran could exploit to advance its nuclear programme. The enriched-uranium stockpile and the number of centrifuges will be significantly reduced. The plutonium route is blocked. The list of prohibited activities is impressive, as is the scope of monitoring – from uranium mines to procurement channels. The E3/EU+3 (France, Germany and the UK, plus China, Russia and the United States) have been creative in ensuring that the threat of reimposing sanctions is not hollow. And whatever happens next, the patient efforts of the E3/EU+3 since 2006, along with the harshest non-proliferation sanctions ever imposed, will have demonstrated that illegal nuclear proliferation is costly. Simply put, this is the most detailed non-proliferation agreement ever devised. But it nevertheless includes several problematic aspects, which deserve careful scrutiny.

The original goal of the E3/EU+3 was for Tehran to make a strategic choice – to turn 180 degrees and agree to forfeit any capability to rapidly build nuclear weapons. Since 2006, however, the goalposts have been moved.

A renowned expert supporting the deal recently incited readers to follow Nietzsche’s dictum: ‘the most common form of human stupidity is forgetting what one is trying to do’. The argument can be turned against his thesis, for we did forget what our specific objective was. Around 2012, under US pressure, the E3/EU+3 abandoned roll-back in favour of containment. And in 2014, the envisioned duration of the key provisions of the deal moved from a generation to a decade. Iran has become a nuclear-threshold state, and it will remain one, with our blessing. This is bad news: persuading countries in the region and elsewhere to forsake fuel-cycle activities has suddenly become much more problematic.

After investing billions of dollars and the effort of hundreds of scientists and engineers, not to take the final step requires stopping a powerful momentum. When is the last time that after such a long, dedicated military-oriented effort, a country reached the nuclear threshold and just stopped there, without ever building a device? It has never happened. Countries do not give up when they have invested so much, unless they are forced to do so after a major war (as Iraq was), or when regime change comes (as it did in Brazil and South Africa). Sweden had invested a lot in a military nuclear option in the 1950s and 1960s before terminating its nuclear programme, but not as much as the Islamic Republic. Unless there is a sea change in the nature of the regime, a complete cessation is unlikely to happen. It is regrettable, by the way, that Iran was not requested to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) – its abstention makes the scenario of a hypothetical ‘peaceful nuclear explosion’ (such as the one India carried out in 1974) not far-fetched.

Legitimate questions also arise about the deal’s verification procedures. It is not known whether the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have access to scientists – a key necessity, according to the inspectors themselves. The delay in resolving questions about suspicious activities, which could reach up to 24 days, may be too long to allow for the timely detection of some forbidden activities, particularly if they involve non-nuclear activities or very small quantities of nuclear materials.

The IAEA–Iran road map that aims to clarify the so-called ‘possible military dimensions’ (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear programme is another area of concern. After several years of stonewalling and procrastinating, we can hardly expect Iran suddenly to either give credible explanations for all its suspect activities, or to admit that it has conducted weaponisation experiments. It is thus logical to believe that there will be a tacit understanding among all parties to hide them under the rug. This would be a bad precedent for the non-proliferation regime and the credibility of the IAEA. So would the lifting of the remaining US sanctions before the IAEA has reached its ‘broader conclusion’ that all nuclear material in Iran remains in exclusively peaceful use.

A short time in politics

The deal’s main flaw, even assuming that implementation goes smoothly for more than a decade, is its short duration. (The agreement will last roughly the same amount of time as it took to negotiate, if one starts with the 2003 European effort). President Barack Obama does not hide the fact that he is kicking the can down the road, and time is certainly a valuable commodity in international diplomacy. But a decade is a short time both by the Islamic Republic’s standards and by those of slow-motion, incremental nuclear programmes such as Tehran’s. Fifteen years ago, as the first signs of an illegal military-oriented nuclear programme in Iran were becoming clear, I had a conversation with a senior French diplomat that ended in the following way: ‘Anyway, in ten years Iran will be a democracy, and democracies don’t build nuclear weapons.’ He was wrong on both counts. (Reminder: the majority of the current possessors of nuclear weapons are fully fledged democracies.) The eternal hope of Western diplomats is that authoritarian regimes are on the wrong side of history and therefore cannot last long. But sometimes they do. In 1994, some US negotiators were persuaded that the Pyongyang regime would have collapsed by 2004. The now happily retired French diplomat does not have to deal with the consequences of his bad judgement. Neither will the negotiators of the 14 July deal, except for the younger ones.

Iran’s ability to maintain large quantities of centrifuges is not concerning per se – after all, Germany and the Netherlands, which are non-nuclear countries that no one would suspect of being interested in nuclear weapons, do so. (The irony is that the E3/EU+3 legitimised an enrichment programme that is not large enough – and not needed – for its domestic power plants consumption, even though they have agreed that Iran would only have an enrichment programme ‘consistent with [its] practical needs’). Likewise, I have no quarrel with the fact that the agreement did not cover ballistic missiles: the Iranians can rightly argue that they need them for their conventional defence. But no non-nuclear country in the world maintains an enrichment programme that makes no sense in economic terms. And no non-nuclear country, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, possesses medium-to-long-range ballistic missiles. Iran has both. This in itself is reason to doubt the (unsubstantiated) claim that Iran never wanted to cross the threshold.

Japan is sometimes mentioned (including by some Iranians) as a model for a ‘nuclear threshold’ Iran. The comparison is wrong on three counts. Firstly, Japan’s enrichment programme has a clear rationale: to produce one-third of the fuel for its reactors to mitigate the effects of any political or economic changes that could affect the reliability of foreign supplies. Secondly, Japan does not have ballistic missiles (while some of Iran’s missiles have been tested for carrying a nuclear-type payload) and its space launchers would have to be modified and tested to carry nuclear weapons. Thirdly, there is no evidence of Japanese work on weaponisation.

Iran will not be allowed to have any research reactors able to quickly generate large quantities of weapons-grade plutonium. But by year 15 (around 2030), Iran will be allowed to build as many heavy-water reactors and reprocessing plants as it wants. Is this too far in the future for us to worry about? Not when one remembers that several nuclear countries embraced the plutonium route only after they had made their first weapons using highly enriched uranium (HEU).

Let us assume that Iran will maintain its weaponisation expertise. After all, a former French ambassador to Tehran publicly boasted a few years ago that he advised his Iranian friends to simply put it in a locker. François Nicoullaud writes: ‘I told him [a close friend of Rouhani] of a similar case in Europe when a country had to implement the freshly signed Chemical Weapons Convention. The researchers were given enough time and funds to archive all the data they had collected in order to protect their achievements for the future. A while later, my interlocutor happily reported: “I conveyed your message ... It worked!” My conviction that these officials were talking about the weaponization program was reinforced when the November 2011 IAEA report about the termination of that programme noted that “staff remained in place to record and document the achievements of their respective projects”.’

 By 2025–30, providing its weaponisation expertise is solid, Iran will be technically in a position to make, in a matter of months, a nuclear weapon that can be carried by a medium-range ballistic missile. By year 15 of the deal, producing one bomb’s worth of HEU might take less than two weeks; and after a few more years, it might only be a matter of days. And by the end of the deal, if it had not ratified the Additional Protocol, Iran could just stop its ‘voluntary’ implementation.

But it may even be a delusion to believe that we have at least gained 10–15 years. There is no reason to believe that Tehran will change its strategic behaviour. Based on what it has been doing since the mid-1980s, one can bet that the Islamic Republic will test the West’s resolve over and over, re-interpreting the agreement’s clauses, procrastinating and showing goodwill on some sites only to better hinder access to others. Remember the joint US–UK Operation Desert Fox, a major offensive against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in 1998, after excessive Iraqi footdragging? And can we really count on the threat of ‘snapback’? Reimposing sanctions will be hard when hundreds of Western, Russian and Chinese companies flourish in Iran. In this sense the enforcement mechanism of the Vienna agreement is the equivalent of massive retaliation. Does Iran see it as a credible deterrent? As per the threat of military action, unless Iran did something as insane as secretly building a nuclear device, Tehran almost certainly sees such a threat as hollow.

A change is not going to come

It is unlikely that the nuclear agreement will trigger positive change in the Middle East. This is not a downside of the deal per se – more an element to be taken into account when doing a net assessment of its costs and benefits. Forget about US–Iran ‘reconciliation’ (an inappropriate word anyway, as if this was a marriage dispute): the Vienna deal is transactional, not transformational. For Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei, a modus vivendi with the US requires first an American capitulation in the Middle East. As Iranian conservatives put it, opposition to the West is in the regime’s political DNA. It can even be feared that Khamenei will want to tighten the screws to show who is boss, and limit the political space opened to President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Iran’s financial benefit from the lifting of sanctions will help. Western and Iranian interests will continue to diverge in Iraq (where the West seeks an inclusive, not Shia-dominated, government) and in Syria (where Iran has doubled down on its support of the regime, even though it may be ready to sacrifice Bashar al-Assad). Iran is fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) because it is in its own interests to do so. And there is already de facto coordination between the coalition and Iran to fight ISIS in Iraq, through the Baghdad government. Nobody knows how Tehran will spend the financial gains from sanctions being lifted. But what is certain is that budgetary problems will no longer be a hypothetical obstacle to the Islamic Republic’s extending its long arm even further into the region.

Could the deal have been better? Its supporters have used two slogans: ‘this is the best possible deal’, and ‘this deal now or war later’. Both are false alternatives, giving the impression that they were created for rhetorical purposes. Washington’s self-imposed deadlines left it negotiating against itself. It may very well have been wiser to wait until Iran felt the pressure of sanctions even more. At times, the United States may have given Tehran the impression that it needed a deal even more than the Iranians did. The second argument is equally spurious: few serious analysts or politicians would support immediate military action against Iran.

But the time for regrets has passed. Rejecting the deal now, with a view to agreeing a better one later, would be even riskier than accepting it – perhaps considerably more so. Thus we should make it work. This will require careful and constant monitoring: let us beware of ‘Iran fatigue’. The E3/EU+3 should supplement the massive-retaliation snapback provisions with informal understandings among the group’s members on how to respond to minor violations: a graduated response is needed. A key aspect will be the way the IAEA will judge whether or not the PMD question is settled. Here, Tehran should not be let off the hook. Finally, the E3/EU+3, or at least its four Western members, should regularly – perhaps annually – make a solemn commitment that they will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear explosive device and are ready to use any means to that effect.

What happens next is not only about Iran, but about the very future of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Any precedent the Iranian crisis creates will be fully exploited by the next ‘Nth country’. At the end of the day, the Vienna deal is an experiment in strategic risk-taking. We will only know in a few years whether this was a reasonable bet.

This commentary will appear in the October–November 2015 issue of Survival.

Bruno Tertrais is a Senior Research Fellow at the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, and a Contributing Editor to Survival.

Matthew Harries: Morons, Losers and Leaders

I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises.

- Neil Kinnock, 1 October 1985.


‘We cannot waste this defeat’, said Harriet Harman, interim Labour leader, after her party’s bitter loss in Britain’s May 2015 general election. ‘We will dare to look over the precipice at what happened.’

Looking over the precipice, Labour saw the smouldering wreckage of an election campaign. The post-mortem has been traumatic, not least because, as late as election night on 7 May, pollsters and analysts still believed that the party could lead the next government. And it was not obvious whether Labour lost because it was too left-wing, or not left-wing enough. It had been beaten both from the left, in Scotland, by the Scottish National Party (SNP), and from the right, in England, by the Conservatives and the UK Independence Party (UKIP). It was not unreasonable to think that a decisive move in either direction would be the way to avoid being outflanked again – although one post-election review pointed clearly rightwards, identifying a widespread perception that Labour was not capable of fiscal responsibility.

On 8 May, within hours of defeat, party leader Ed Miliband resigned, Harman took interim control, and the process of finding a new leader began. Labour’s electoral procedures required candidates to gain the backing of 35 members of parliament in order to appear on the ballot, and in the six weeks after the election, three candidates crossed the threshold: Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow health secretary; Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary; and Liz Kendall, shadow minister for care and the elderly. The deadline for nominations was noon on 15 June; that morning, a fourth candidate, Jeremy Corbyn, was ten names short. Over the next few hours, signatures gradually trickled in – but not from Corbyn’s supporters. Instead, a series of Labour MPs nominated Corbyn on the grounds that his participation – as, by a comfortable margin, the most left-wing candidate on offer – would broaden the debate, though they did not want him actually to win the contest. Corbyn reached the required threshold with minutes to spare.

To nominate a candidate for election whom you would rather not see winning might be considered eccentric, but in a closed system such as Labour’s, it makes some democratic sense. Nor is it without precedent: in 2010, the left-wing candidate Diane Abbott reached the ballot with the help of David Miliband, who had encouraged some of his parliamentary supporters to nominate her. Moreover, at the time of his nomination Corbyn seemed unthreatening, personally and politically. His manner is mild, and his politics are so far to the left of what was then considered the Labour mainstream that the nomination seemed unlikely to have any practical consequences. An advocate of unilateral nuclear disarmament, NATO withdrawal and renationalisation of the railways, who had served on the Labour backbenches since 1983, was hardly leadership material.

That judgement has now proven to be spectacularly wrong. The candidate nominated to widen the debate ended up winning it. Three candidates of the party establishment failed to convince. And after an election campaign that appeared to have scared off centrist voters, Labour is poised to move further to the left.

Although shocking, Corbyn’s victory was accurately predicted – unlike the result of May’s general election – by two YouGov polls. When the first, in mid-July, showed Corbyn unexpectedly ahead, John McTernan, who had served as director of political operations for former prime minister Tony Blair, was asked on BBC Newsnight to reflect on the state of the race. ‘The moronic MPs who nominated Jeremy Corbyn need their heads felt’, said McTernan. ‘They should be ashamed of themselves … They are morons.’ The next day, a BBC radio presenter introduced former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett – one of Labour’s most distinguished serving MPs – by quoting McTernan’s ‘morons’ jibe. ‘I’m one of them’, Beckett cheerfully admitted. ‘I have to say at no point, I am afraid, did I intend – although he is a very nice person – to vote for Jeremy myself, or to advise anybody else to do so.’


While Jeremy Corbyn was rising in the polls, so too, on the other side of the Atlantic, was Donald Trump. One week before the first Republican presidential debate, to be held on 6 August, a national poll showed Trump in the lead, though just barely; ten days after the debate, another poll gave him a 13-percentage-point lead over the nearest challenger.

The two campaigns invited comparison; two populists, derided by political establishments, mounting insurgencies to the dismay of party grandees. But to be credible, the comparison could only be structural, not personal. Corbyn is a socialist and of relatively modest means; his website greets visitors with a vivid red background, against which is a traced outline of Corbyn with beard and newspaper-boy cap. Trump is a billionaire right-wing populist; the livery of his personal Boeing 757 carries his surname in large gold letters. Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens argued that what instead they shared was the ‘business of politics as protest’, a promise to the disaffected that they could ‘stop the world and get off’.

The comparison did greater injustice to Corbyn. Trump was offering populism in its least pleasant sense: a willingness to appeal to public sentiment that other politicians would leave untouched on grounds of decency. On the topic of immigration, for example, Trump alleged, repeatedly, that Mexico was ‘forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists.’ Nor was there a fair comparison to be made in terms of manner. Corbyn is softly spoken, and during the leadership campaign remained polite towards his opponents – although admittedly the same could not always be said for Corbyn’s supporters. The list of people whom Trump has over the years called a ‘loser’ – his favourite insult – includes Senator John McCain, former SNP leader Alex Salmond, conservative columnists Charles Krauthammer and George Will, former Trump campaign manager Roger Stone and, finally, all critics of his own hair.

The crucial, structural comparison, however, concerned the ways in which the priorities of a political party’s representatives and operatives tend to differ from those of its supporters. What worried Corbyn and Trump’s respective party elites was the apparent lack of interest they and their supporters showed towards two crucial concepts: electability and party unity. Alastair Campbell, Blair’s former director of communications, for example, called for consolidation around an ‘ABC’ (anyone but Corbyn) candidate; asserted ‘with absolute certainty’ that a Corbyn-led Labour Party would not win the next general election; and said that a Corbyn victory would demonstrate that Labour had ‘decided to open up an even bigger gulf’ in the party than the one that had become apparent on election day.

For many of Corbyn’s supporters, however, appeals like these – former prime minister Gordon Brown made much the same argument, though without specific reference to Corbyn – were coded demands for a right-wing candidate, and one drawn from a familiar pool of personnel lacking what they saw as Corbyn’s refreshing idiosyncrasy. As one Labour activist wrote:

The arrogance with which MPs tell us that we’re wrong, that we’re too cowardly to make ‘tough choices’ and vote for their preferred candidate, perfectly explains why the membership is not flocking to their anointed one…Of course they will deliver us from our childish and selfish ideas and lead us to where we deserve to be led. Only they know what being ‘electable’ is like.

As the leadership race progressed, arguments against Corbyn’s candidacy resting on the thesis that his election would be practically unwise seemed only to increase the intensity of his support. When Tony Blair intervened to make such an argument in two op-eds, Corbyn’s opponents greeted his judgement as being both astute and profoundly unhelpful. The reason was simple: for many Labour supporters, Jeremy Corbyn has appeared attractive largely because of what, or who, he is not.


Jeremy Corbyn is not Tony Blair. One Labour MP who nominated Corbyn praised him as a change from the ‘stale, out-dated Blairite 1990s’. The head of Britain’s fifth-biggest trade union declared that ‘The grip of the Blairites … must now be loosened once and for all. There is a virus within the Labour Party, and Jeremy Corbyn is the antidote.’

For anyone unfamiliar with Labour’s internal divisions, this might come as something of a surprise. Tony Blair, after all, won three general elections: in 1997, 2001 and 2005. He remains the only Labour leader to have won a general election since Harold Wilson’s victory in October 1974. But to be called Blairite today is rarely intended as a compliment.

One version of Blairism, and perhaps the simplest, can be found in the record of Labour’s time in government with Blair as prime minister. Labour was elected in 1997 after an 18-year period of Conservative government, towards the end of which the Conservatives had suffered furious division over Britain’s relationship with Europe, and a series of high-profile scandals that obliged ministers to resign. Tony Blair, at 43, was the youngest prime minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812, and was welcomed into office by genuinely delighted crowds lining the route to Downing Street. The theme song of Labour’s election campaign had been ‘Things Can Only Get Better’, by D:Ream.

A drastically condensed narrative of what happened next goes something like this: Labour’s wave of expectations lasted six months, until a party-funding scandal forced Blair – awkwardly defending himself as a ‘pretty straight sort of guy’ – to confront the kind of ‘sleaze’ that had defined his Conservative predecessors. As the hopefulness of the election campaign met the messy reality of government, Labour enacted a series of moderate social-democratic reforms, including the introduction of a national minimum wage, spending on health, education and overseas aid, and repeal of an infamous anti-gay section of the Local Government Act. At the same time, Blair’s government consciously avoided traditional indicators of socialist government, such as significant increases in the top bracket of income tax, and made a high-profile public accommodation with business and finance: ‘We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich’, Peter Mandelson famously said. The discomfort of Labour’s left wing with this rightward turn was exacerbated by the policies of relatively hardline home secretaries, including security laws criticised for restricting civil liberties. Until 2003, however, electoral success was, broadly speaking, enough to keep open rebellion to a minimum.

Then came the invasion of Iraq. Foreign secretary Robin Cook resigned from the government in protest. In his resignation statement – an insistent attack on the case for war and perhaps the most rhetorically brilliant speech to Parliament in a generation – Cook called Blair the most successful leader of the Labour Party in his lifetime, warning: ‘I have no sympathy with, and I will give no comfort to, those who want to use this crisis to displace him.’ Blair remained leader, and despite the war’s political cost, led Labour to victory again in 2005. But the invasion was the beginning of the end. Before the 2005 election, under pressure from supporters of Gordon Brown – who had long ago reached an understanding with Blair that he would be allowed one day to take Blair’s place – Blair announced that, if re-elected, he would only serve one more term as prime minister. He did not make it that long. Resigning in May 2007, he conceded that the Iraq War had been ‘bitterly controversial’; of the expectations placed on his time in government, he asked that his supporters accept ‘one thing: hand on heart, I did what I thought was right’.

This is all by way of saying that ‘Blairism’ is in one sense, justly or otherwise, shorthand for the disappointment of progressive hope, symbolised by the invasion of Iraq. Opposition to that invasion was a key rallying point for the Corbyn campaign. On 21 August, Corbyn announced that as leader he would make a formal apology on behalf of the Labour Party: ‘to the British people for taking them into the Iraq War on the basis of deception, and to the Iraqi people for the suffering we have helped cause’. The rejection of this form of Blairism is a straightforward argument to move the Labour Party to the political left – albeit, in Corbyn’s case, rather dramatically so.

There is another type of ‘Blairism’, however, to which Corbyn’s campaign is also a challenge, but which is more complicated than simple policy positioning. This second Blairism is a more than 20-year project, driven not solely by Blair but by a series of senior Labour figures, to reshape the party, and to prioritise unity and electability over ideological purity. (It is worth noting that this movement included Gordon Brown; here, the Blairite/Brownite split that paralysed Labour in office is of less significance.)

A crucial victory in this reforming project was won by Neil Kinnock, with the expulsion of the hard-left entryist group Militant Tendency from the party in 1985. In a speech to the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth that year, Kinnock condemned Militant’s record at the helm of Liverpool city council, which had ended, as Kinnock put it, in the ‘grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council – hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers’.

The premise of Kinnock’s attack, and the expulsion of Militant, was that Labour could afford neither to allow hardline internal factions to define the meaning of socialism for the public at large, nor to pursue unfettered socialist ambition at the expense of electoral success. Kinnock offered a quotation from Aneurin Bevan, a fellow Welsh Labour politician who had served in the post-war government of Clement Attlee: ‘socialism does not have to be complete to be convincing’.

Driven by the experience of four successive general-election defeats, a generation of Labour politicians, led finally by Blair, drew an even stronger conclusion than Bevan: designing socialism to be complete would convince the British public never to vote Labour. Ten years after Kinnock’s speech in Bournemouth, the battle to reform the party was finally won when Blair won a vote to reform Clause IV of the Labour Party constitution, which had hitherto committed the party to pursuing ‘the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange’. The new version made reference to the ‘enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition’, to be combined with the ‘forces of partnership and co-operation’.

It is in this context too, then, that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign should be understood. Corbyn, an advocate of the renationalisation of parts of British industry and infrastructure, has suggested that Clause IV might be reformed. But the clause itself is not the crux of the issue. Instead, the question is whether widespread dissatisfaction with the first type of Blairism will bring down the achievements of the second. To put it another way, if Labour is to move to the political left of Blair, the question is whether it can do so without becoming once again a party that sees unelectability as proof of virtuous ideology, and which treats party unity with suspicion.

Labour now faces a truly fundamental challenge. With Corbyn as leader, the party elites – ‘morons’ or otherwise – will have to find a way to win on a platform generally considered unelectable, with a party base inclined to regard the goal of electability as cover for a right-wing agenda. Several members of the shadow cabinet have already concluded that this is an impossible task.

At the end of August, US Senator Lindsey Graham said ‘If Donald Trump is the nominee, that’s the end of the Republican Party’. Corbyn, the British political system and the Labour Party’s circumstances are greatly different. But if this challenge is not met, Labour will lose the 2020 election, and will be out of power for close to a generation. That is more than enough time for a political party to die.

A version of this article will appear in the October–November 2015 issue of Survival.

Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS. 

Mark Fitzpatrick: Iran – A Good Deal

The more I study the Iran nuclear deal, the more deeply I appreciate its worth. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed in Vienna on 14 July is better than all three of its antecedents. It goes beyond the political accord struck in Lausanne on 2 April, walking back from none of the parameters of that accord as described by the United States. Among other virtues, the verification procedures of the JCPOA are tighter than the safeguards provided for in the Additional Protocol. The constraints and obligations Iran accepts under the deal also go beyond the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The deal can be characterised as Lausanne-plus, Additional Protocol-plus and NPT-plus.

Opponents of the agreement typically compare it to idealised concepts of a better deal, one that would restrain Iran’s nuclear programme more tightly, and, for good measure, compel better behaviour in other policy fields. Better provisions can be imagined, of course, including those that were tabled and eventually traded away in order to persuade Iran to accept the very sharp limits and intrusive verification measures in the final document. ‘Give and take’ is the essence of negotiations. Along the way, Iran gave up many of its own demands. According to one Iranian critic, 19 of the redlines defined by Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei were crossed. I am still amazed that Iran agreed to let go of 98% of its enriched uranium stockpile, to keep this stockpile at less than 300kg for 15 years, to only use clunky first-generation centrifuges for ten years and to entirely forego producing weapons-grade plutonium for 15 or more years.

For critics now to demand a return to the opening-gambit US provisions and to impose other conditions is to engage in fantasy. There has long ceased to be any possibility that Iran would give up its enrichment programme altogether. Criticising the JCPOA because it failed to achieve this impossible goal is equivalent to arguing against any diplomatic outcome.

For reasons compellingly explained by Graham Allison, among others, there is no better deal now to be had because killing this deal would deprive US negotiators of bargaining power. Similarly, Robert Gates, who is not particularly fond of the JCPOA, recognises that once it was agreed by eight parties after two years of negotiations, it is now the only deal possible. If the US Congress blocks it, Iran will never trust another US negotiating team to be able to deliver on agreed terms. Nor will other countries meekly accept a return to imposing tough sanctions at America’s beck and call if Washington undermines the deal that European allies worked so hard to reach.

The valid comparison is between the JCPOA and the status of Iran’s nuclear programme that prevailed two years ago. This is the status quo ante that is likely to ‘snap back’ if the deal is torpedoed. In early autumn 2013, Iran had nearly 20,000 centrifuges in place, having learned to install them at a pace of more than 700 per month. One thousand second-generation models that were reportedly three times more effective appeared to be ready for operation and more of them were being prepared for installation. Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) was growing at an average rate of 150kg per month, and it had almost enough 20%-enriched uranium hexafluoride for a weapon, if further enriched. The deeply buried enrichment facility at Fordow was being readied to produce more 20% product. Meanwhile, the Arak reactor was nearing completion, perhaps soon able to produce one or two bombs-worth of weapons-grade plutonium per year. Iran was on the brink of being a nuclear-armed state.

Before the interim deal instituted daily inspections, which will fall away if the JCPOA is rejected, verification commitments were limited to ordinary safeguards. Inspections at declared sites took place about once a week at most, and the monitoring equipment was far from state of the art. There was no Additional Protocol providing rights of access to undeclared facilities, and Iran refused to accept provisions requiring declaration of new facilities until they were close to being operational.

The interim agreement that was struck in November 2013 and had been extended several times by early July 2015 brought Iran back from the brink. In the race between sanctions and centrifuges, sanctions finally got the upper hand. But Iran’s commitments under that temporary arrangement would fall away if the JCPOA were killed. Iran would be free to resume where it left off two years ago. Only this time the US would have very few partners willing to impose the tough sanctions that compelled the serious negotiations of the past two years. Not a single foreign nation besides Israel advocates starting over to try to negotiate a better deal. They know it would be daft.

NPT plus

The Iran deal is better than the NPT in several ways. In addition to committing to never produce nuclear weapons, Iran also committed to never engage in four kinds of development work related to nuclear weapons. These include neutron initiator development and multi-point explosive detonation, activities that the NPT does not forbid. This is also one of the ways in which the JCPOA goes beyond the Lausanne accord. The prohibited weaponisation development work also appears to be covered by the verification procedures of the JCPOA. This is a major breakthrough for the nuclear non-proliferation regime, which to date has never explicitly granted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the right to verify nuclear weaponisation work that does not involve nuclear materials.

The JCPOA is also better than the NPT in that it has no withdrawal clause. Most of the limits on civilian nuclear activities end after a period of time, but the obligations are indefinite, as are the key verification measures of the Additional Protocol and Iran’s commitment to exporting all spent fuel, making it unavailable for plutonium-based weapons. Among the ways the deal improves on the Additional Protocol is that maximum time periods are set for access to suspicious sites, 24 days in the worst case. The normal turnaround period for Iran to respond to an inspection request will be 24 hours. Adding an ultimate limit of 24 days is an improvement to the Additional Protocol, which provides for no such limit on delays. The US Department of Energy National Laboratories recently proved that even very limited quantities of uranium could not be cleaned up in this time. Experimental work using only non-nuclear components could probably be hidden, even in one day. But without the JCPOA, the IAEA would have no agreed right to even look for non-nuclear weaponisation work.

The limits on civilian nuclear capacity also have no equivalent in the NPT. Their expiration after 15 years, in the case of enrichment and heavy-water reactors, will not mean Iran is able suddenly and without detection to rush to build nuclear weapons. The IAEA will monitor production of key centrifuge parts for 20 years. All uranium oxide will be tracked for 25 years. Meanwhile, the major powers that were involved in the talks will have additional monitoring functions of their own, to review and approve various nuclear research and development plans and to review procurement of nuclear-related material and equipment. The JCPOA thus provides an extra means for detecting any suspicious build-up in Iran’s nuclear capabilities. The monitoring through the Joint Commission established by the JCPOA is in addition to the national technical means that states continue to employ to gather intelligence on Iran.

Perfect accuracy of intelligence cannot be guaranteed, of course, but Iran would have to assume that any significant cheating on its part would very likely be quickly observed. If so detected, the US and its allies will not give up any of the options they now possess to compel compliance. In fact, such options will be more robust in the latter years of the Iran deal because the technology for military options such as bunker-busting bombs will likely improve, as will the intelligence picture on Iran’s activities.

So while one can legitimately criticise the JCPOA for allowing Iran unlimited expansion of a civilian nuclear programme in 15 years’ time, this hardly paves the way for nuclear weapons, as some of the more bombastic critics charge. Rather, it buys 15 or more years of certified non-nuclear status – and the reassurance of not having to resort to war to stop the programme. Iran will have strong incentives to honour the deal during this time. Faithful implementation should give the IAEA the means to be able to draw the broader conclusion under the Additional Protocol that all nuclear material in Iran is exclusively for peaceful purposes with no indication of undeclared nuclear activities. If Iran could earn what in effect is the IAEA certificate of approval, there would be no sustainable reason not to allow the same rights as enjoyed by other IAEA members such as Germany and Japan, both of which have enrichment programmes.

Enemy of the good

I have written elsewhere about problematic aspects of the agreement. In addition to concerns about the sunset clause, there are unresolved questions about nuclear activity of a possible military dimension (PMD). The agreement obliges Iran to answer these questions but not necessarily to resolve the concerns. If the answers are unsatisfactory, the major partners will face a political decision in early 2016 about whether to lift sanctions anyway. If Iran fulfils its stated obligations under the JCPOA to remove centrifuges, LEU and the core of the Arak reactor but leaves the PMD issues hanging, I anticipate that the powers will swallow hard and decide that forestalling future weaponisation is more important than knowing what happened in the past.

Iran will have an ongoing incentive, however, to ensure that the file is closed on past allegations, because if in the latter years of the JCPOA the IAEA still had lingering doubts about weaponisation work, it would be difficult to draw the broader conclusion of exclusively peaceful uses. And if the IAEA were not able within 15 years to draw the broader conclusion, then many countries would not feel comfortable allowing Iran at that point to proceed with an unlimited enrichment programme. The nuclear crisis would resume. But the world would not be any worse off than would be the case if the US Congress were to torpedo the JCPOA this year, thereby lifting all constraints immediately.

Iran’s adversaries raise other reasons they dislike the deal, including the suggestion that it might abet regional adventurism. That is an open question; Iran’s behaviour might get worse, especially in the near term, but the deal also offers prospects for it getting better. Some criticise the lifting of the UN Security Council ban on missile development after eight years. This ban was adopted in the first place only to pressure Iran to enter negotiations. In any case, Iran will remain unable legally to import missile-related parts and technology because the voluntary constraints imposed by the Missile Technology Control Regime will remain in place for most exporting countries.

Iran’s dismal human-rights record is another issue offered as a reason to oppose the nuclear deal, although not by Iranian human-rights activists themselves, most of whom support the JCPOA. I remain angry that Iran continues to imprison Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and other US citizens on trumped up charges. I realise, though, that the hardliners who detained him are outside President Hassan Rouhani’s control and would like nothing better than if the US conditioned acceptance of the JCPOA on Rezaian’s release, thereby giving them a veto over the deal.

The JCPOA is a potential game changer in many ways, opening a path to better relations with Iran that has been closed for more than 35 years. For now, however, let it be judged on the merits of what the negotiations set out to achieve. On the issue of single-most importance to the national security of concerned states, the positive contribution of the JCPOA is dispositive. It makes it demonstrably less likely Iran will become nuclear-armed now and in the future.

This commentary will appear in the October–November 2015 issue of Survival.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

William Choong: Pacifism and the problems of history

Recently, I was interviewed by a Japanese broadcast journalist on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to push through legislation that would enable Japan to participate in collective self-defence with its allies.

The journalist was taken aback when I said that the move was not controversial, given that Japan has already embarked on a process of gradual normalisation of its military for decades. In Japan, such views would be attacked by the pacifist left, the journalist said.

Indeed, the recent protests outside the National Diet only underscore the strength of opposition to the new security bills.

The rationale for the protesters’ opposition sounds compelling – given that the Japanese people have suffered from the destruction of an atomic bomb, Japan must maintain its pacifist tradition as a model for the world.

The call for the abandonment of the bills, however, represents a dogged reluctance to recognise the change in Japan’s security environment, which has deteriorated markedly with North Korea’s nuclear programme and China’s increasingly assertive behaviour in the East China Sea and South China Sea. 

To begin with, pacifism in Japan was short-lived. Speaking in 1946, Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida said Japan should renounce war as an exercise of the right to self-defence and the right to belligerency. In those formative post-war years, Yoshida even said that Japan should entrust Japan’s security to the United Nations, which had been established only a year earlier.

But it took less than a decade for Japanese policymakers to realise that denying Japan’s right to self-defence and entrusting its security to the UN was not advisable. In the 1950s, corrections to the pacifist stance stressed that Japan’s renunciation of the right to war did not imply the abandonment of the right to self-defence. This formed the basis for the eventual adoption of the Yoshida Doctrine, whereby Japan chose a position of alignment with the United States and sought a policy of limited rearmament. Essentially, this was recessed pacifism – Japan managed to maintain a smaller military because the American juggernaut guaranteed its security.

In other words, Japan rejected full-fledged pacifism at an early stage. It has proceeded on a path of gradual normalisation of its military ever since.

In 1954, Yoshida used the ambiguities of ‘modern warfare’ to establish the Japan Self-Defence Forces (JSDF) without revising the constitution. In 1992, lawmakers passed the International Peacekeeping Cooperation Law, overriding a 1954 law that prevented the overseas deployment of JSDF troops. In 1997, revised guidelines for the US–Japan alliance enabled Japan to provide logistical and other non-combat support to the US military in ‘areas surrounding Japan’ – a development that led to howls of protest in Beijing, given the implications for China’s claim to Taiwan.

Given the long arc of Japan’s normalisation as a military power, the false narrative of pacifism has led to all kinds of linguistic contortions and illogical positions.

As Richard Samuels writes in Securing Japan, many hairs have been split over whether ‘armed force’ (buryoku) is different from ‘war potential’ (senryoku). At first, jet fighters were excluded; later, they were accepted, but not with aerial refuelling capabilities. Then aerial refuelling was deemed permissible. Japan initially insisted that it could not maintain aircraft carriers. Now it has acquired helicopter carriers that can be retrofitted to operate F-35 stealth fighters.

The same lack of logic applies to Japan’s nuclear-weapons policy. For years, Japan maintained its ‘Three Nos’ policy towards nuclear weapons – that it shall not produce, possess or introduce nuclear arms.

This satisfies the pacifists, but the fact is that the policy is predicated on American extended deterrence – America’s promise to retaliate against a country which uses nuclear weapons on Japan. Former prime minister Eisaku Sato won the Nobel Peace Prize for declaring Japan’s non-nuclear principles in 1967. Two years later, however, he declared to the US ambassador to Japan that the principles were ‘nonsense’. It was reported in 2009 that the US and Japan had arrived at a secret pact in 1981 which allowed nuclear-armed US Navy ships to enter Japan.

In sum, Japan never really pursued pacifism in its purest form, even though the Article 9 clauses of renouncing ‘war as a sovereign right’ and ‘the threat or use of force’ in settling disputes sound pacifist enough. In fact, it can be argued that protestors who challenge the historic security bills protest too little, not too much. If they mourn the ‘loss’ of pacifism inherent in the new bills, they need to go the whole hog and ask for the rollback of all the capabilities that the JSDF has added since 1954 – the same capabilities that make Japan and the region secure and safe today.

On another front, the passing of the new security bills would not derail Japan’s attempt at ‘proactive pacifism’ – a policy of using a stronger military to enable Japan to contribute to regional and global stability.

Even with a stronger military, Japan can still continue to practise Article 9-style principles and call for the avoidance of the threat or use of force in settling disputes. Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2014, Mr Abe stressed adherence to the rule of law in settling territorial disputes and called for restraint in the use of force.

Indeed, Japan has and can continue to play a bigger role in Asia-Pacific affairs. While it has not joined China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, it has rolled out a US$110 billion plan for infrastructure development in the region. It has helped countries like Vietnam and the Philippines develop their maritime security capabilities and provided financial assistance and technology to littoral states seeking to manage security in the Malacca Strait.

But only a Japan that takes a correct approach to history would enable the country to go further in its proactive pacifism. Mr Abe has been criticised for his visits to the Yasukuni Shrine and his controversial approach to addressing Japan’s wartime record.

On 15 August – the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in 1945 – he stayed true to form. While he upheld previous apologies by previous administrations, he did not issue a fresh apology. He also added that future generations of Japanese should not be ‘predestined to apologise’.

This does not bode well for Japan’s aspirations to become a normal country that plays a bigger role in Asia. Addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue this year, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that most Southeast Asian countries want Japan to play a more active role in the region. But he noted that the controversy over history hinders such an aspiration.

Mr Abe needs to take the right approach to history by making repeated apologies for Japan’s wartime atrocities. A historic gesture would help. On 12 August, former premier Yukio Hatoyama knelt down in front of a monument in Seoul for victims of Japan’s colonisation during the Second World War and apologised for his country’s wartime atrocities. This went down well in South Korea.

In a 1992 speech, Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew said that allowing the JSDF to go abroad was akin to ‘giving a chocolate liqueur to an alcoholic’. Japan, he said, was unable to ‘square its accounts over the last war’. Unless Mr Abe squares the accounts, Japan will remain a reforming alcoholic who has not jumped back on the wagon.

William Choong is the Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security at the IISS.

Erik Jones: The European political centre cannot hold (but the EU can)

Europe’s politicians have cleared the last hurdle in accepting Greece’s third financial bailout, but the voting was uncomfortable for everyone. The left-wing populist government in Greece relied on representatives from the more traditional centre-left and centre-right to cover for defections from the ruling coalition; the German government used Social Democrats within the ruling coalition to cover for defections from the chancellor’s own Christian Democrats; and the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD)/Labour Party (PvdA) government of the Netherlands got extra support from the left-liberal Democrats 66 (D66) party to add to its slender one-seat majority.

As a result of these different movements toward the political centre – and similar developments in other countries – the Greek government will get the money it needs to keep up with its debt payments and shore up its banks. That is a good thing for anyone who wants to see Greece have a reasonable chance at recovering from this ongoing crisis. Unfortunately, that centre cannot hold. A populist party like Syriza cannot govern easily with the old pillars of the Greek political establishment; Germany’s grand coalition is a historical anomaly; and the result of eight years of close cooperation between the VVD, PvdA and D66 was bad for all. So the question is whether Europe’s political centre will splinter before the Greek situation becomes sustainable.

It is easy to explain why Europe’s political centre cannot hold indefinitely. The people who identify with the political centre learned through experience that European voters have lost their patience with long-running broad-church movements. The once-hegemonic Christian democratic parties that dominated political life in Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands are faint whispers of their former selves. The social democrats have not fared much better. This is obviously true in those countries like Sweden where the social democrats were as hegemonic as the Christian democrats were elsewhere (even if they may have proved to be more durable). But it is also true where there has been more consistent right–left alternation. Those social democratic parties that moved to the centre to try and consolidate their hold over the electorate, like Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) or Tony Blair’s Labour Party, inevitably found themselves challenged on the Left. Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party is experiencing much the same, only faster.

These lessons have had a strong impact on behaviour among both politicians and voters. As a consequence, centrist politicians do not enjoy working together. They may like each other personally and they may agree on many issues, but they know that the key to getting re-elected is to convince voters to make a choice. For its part, the electorate expects these choices to be honoured. As a result, voters tend to regard centrist grand coalitions as a form of betrayal. Rather than rewarding politicians for setting aside their differences, they put a curse on all participating political parties when they return to the polls. Many a populist or anti-elite group has benefited from this process. Austria’s Freedom Party is one example; the French National Front is another; the Dutch List Pim Fortuyn is a third. These groups are similar only in terms of opportunity and not ideology. They arose at least in part because voters preferred choice over the alternative.

This necessity for choice is what puts Europe’s political centre on a short clock. You can see this in the manoeuvring around the snap elections planned in Greece, where the same opposition groups that joined Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in pushing through the legislative preconditions for the third bailout are likely to withhold their support from (or at the very least complicate the bargaining around) any future Syriza-led coalition. It is also evident in the Netherlands, in the sharp attacks levied by D66 leader Alexander Pechtold on VVD Prime Minister Mark Rutte for having promised the voters during the last elections never to give more money to Greece. And it shows up in the nervous counting of Christian Democratic Union (CDU)/Christian Social Union (CSU) defectors from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership, as pundits look ahead to Germany’s 2017 parliamentary elections. The fact that the increase over July was less than many observers expected offers only cold comfort: sooner rather than later, Merkel’s SPD coalition partners will have to begin differentiating themselves from their Christian Democratic coalition partners, and this will force Chancellor Merkel to shore up her position on the right. Against this backdrop, it is hard to see how Europe’s political centre can hold together throughout the three-year life-span of the third Greek bailout agreement. Indeed, it may start fracturing in a matter of weeks or months.

The fact that Europe’s political centre cannot hold is no reason for Europeans to give up hope. On the contrary, it is a strong argument for the importance of European institutions: the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the European Stability Mechanism were created precisely to sustain policy action across changes in member state governments. Politicians should offer voters a choice and the outcomes of those choices should be respected. But that is not the same as saying that every European policy should be held hostage to every change in member-state government, and neither should it mean that historic agreements like those reached over the past several weeks should be held hostage to the fates of an unending succession of national electoral contests.

The European Union exists because there are problems bigger than any member-state government can address on its own. The EU also exists because there are issues that can only be tackled over time periods longer than the gaps between European parliamentary elections. Europe’s political centre cannot hold, but we have always known that. European integration is the answer.

A version of this blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. You can follow him on Twitter at: @Erik_Jones_SAIS.

Dana H. Allin: Egon Bahr and the legacy of Ostpolitik

Egon Bahr, the intellectual father, together with his political partner Willy Brandt, of West Germany’s Ostpolitik, has died at the age of 93. I knew him slightly; he served on the advisory council of the Aspen Institute, Berlin, where I was Deputy Director until 1997. I also interviewed him for my first book, Cold War Illusions. Brandt’s and Bahr’s early-1970s policy of détente with the Soviet bloc aroused considerable anxiety in the Nixon administration, especially for Henry Kissinger, who feared it could lead to progressive encroachment of Soviet power as well as reviving German nationalism. Kissinger was particularly nervous about Bahr’s frank explanation that one motive of Ostpolitik was doubt about the reliability of the American nuclear guarantee. Nixon and Kissinger were unable to oppose Ostpolitik directly, however, since it was so clearly in tune with their own détente policies.

When I interviewed Bahr 21 years ago in Bonn, he was utterly unapologetic about the attitudes that concerned Kissinger. The Social Democrat Brandt, exiled to Norway in World War II and secure in his anti-Nazi credentials, could not be ‘blackmailed’ because of the German past, Bahr told me. ‘This Chancellor considered himself to have been liberated rather than defeated at the end of the war.’ He likewise confirmed that he made no secret, in his conversations with Kissinger, that Ostpolitik was driven by nuclear necessity. ‘With Soviet strategic missiles, America was now vulnerable for the first time in its history,’ is how he put it in our interview. ‘There [was] now a strategic balance and that meant that America would think twice before risking its own existence. Would America answer with nuclear missiles if the Russians took Hamburg? The answer [was] no. So détente was our only option.’

Again, it was not so different from what Kissinger himself was saying at the time, but attitudes like Bahr’s drove the first generation of American neoconservatives crazy; their perceptions of European unreliability and progressive ‘Finlandisation’ were significant sources of their pessimistic assessments of the East–West balance of power.

Cold War Illusions argued, on the contrary, that sources of European and overall Western strength were underrated, and, as a corollary, that détente strategies such as Bahr designed helped prepare the ground for a peaceful end to the Cold War.

Bahr, incidentally, was a contributor to Survival. His commentary in the April–May 2015 issue, addressing arguments about a possible new Cold War with Russia, warned that the lessons of Ostpolitik were now being forgotten. It was probably the last thing he published in English.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Mark Fitzpatrick: A dozen ways the Iran deal promotes global disarmament and non-proliferation

The Iran nuclear deal agreed on 14 July is helpful to disarmament and to non-proliferation in twelve ways.

1. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) shows the value of diplomacy. Three years ago, there was growing concern that Iran’s increasing nuclear capabilities would put it at the brink of quickly being able produce nuclear weapons. Some called Iran a ‘de facto’ weapons state. There was also real concern that military action would be initiated to forestall Iran getting too close to a bomb. Now, as a result of successful diplomacy, both an Iranian nuclear weapon and war to prevent it are off the table for the next 15 or more years if the deal holds.

2. The various tools of the non-proliferation regime worked as intended, demonstrating their utility. Inspections, resolutions, incentives and disincentives all played an important role, employed to good effect by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN Security Council and the E3/EU+3 (Britain, France and Germany, plus China, Russia and the United States) group that negotiated with Iran. The mechanics of international institutions can often be cumbersome and inefficient; in producing the JCPOA, multilateral diplomacy had one of its finest hours.

3. The outcome strengthened verification tools. With Iran now ready to implement and later to ratify the Additional Protocol, which is already in force in 126 countries, this instrument has become ever more the global safeguards norm. In Iran, the IAEA will be able to employ the most modern safeguards techniques, also making them the norm. In fact, verification under the JCPOA will go beyond the Additional Protocol, to allow for monitoring of centrifuge production and storage, the procurement chain, and all uranium ore concentrate. These ‘Additional Protocol-plus’ measures could become a useful precedent in other cases, including for moves toward disarmament. If nuclear-armed states ever are to relax their guard to allow the world to become nuclear weapons-free, deeply intrusive verification measures will be necessary to provide assurances that potential adversaries are not cheating. The Iran deal will show how the most intrusive verification measures ever negotiated work in practice.

4. The deal further strengthened the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by fortifying the pillar of peaceful nuclear use. It did so in an artful way, not explicitly recognising a right to uranium enrichment, but doing so implicitly. The NPT is similarly vague; it does not explicitly include enrichment as among the nuclear technologies to which states have an ‘inalienable right’, but a textual reading of the treaty implies that this is the case. Iran’s willingness in autumn 2013 not to demand an explicit right to enrichment was an early compromise that set negotiators on the path to success. Iran now has the right to decide on its own whether it really needs the industrial-scale enrichment capacity it is allowed after 15 years. Given Russia’s promise to provide enriched uranium fuel for the lifetime of all reactors it sells Iran, the rational economic answer will be that Iran does not need to fully implement this right.

5. Iran’s agreement to sharply reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) could set a useful example for how fissile-material stockpiles might be dealt with in a future Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). As was mentioned at the informal CD session, Iran’s LEU stockpile was produced under safeguards and inspectors have uncontested knowledge of its size. Dealing with hitherto undeclared larger stockpiles of weapons-fissile material would be far more challenging, of course. There is an important lesson in the Iran case though that countries can agree verifiably to reduce enriched-uranium holdings without loss to their security, sovereignty or self-respect. 

6. Prospects for an FMCT were also advanced by Iran’s commitment not to enrich uranium over 3.67% for 15 years, nor to acquire separated plutonium or neptunium for the same period. Iran’s stated intention not to reprocess spent fuel after the 15-year period suggests that this moratorium could be formalised through future negotiations. 

7. The Iran deal should also contribute to implementation of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Iran is one of the eight remaining countries whose ratification is necessary for CTBT entry into force. Until very recently, Iran has faced no pressure over the CTBT, since all of the efforts of countries of concern were on limiting and increasing transparency of its nuclear programme. In late June, Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, began publicly to call on Iran to ratify the treaty in order to demonstrate its non-nuclear bone fides. He believes Iran is now likely to be the first of the eight remaining hold-outs to come aboard. 

8. The JCPOA contributed to the goal of a zone in the Middle East free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. The agreement showed how verification and enforcement provisions of such a zone might be structured. In addition, by removing for 15 years or more any prospect of Iran acquiring an ability to quickly produce nuclear weapons, the agreement made it marginally more possible for Israel to accept limits on its nuclear programme.

9. The deal reduced any incentive for other states in the region to seek sensitive nuclear technologies. In the absence of a deal that reversed Iran’s march toward de facto nuclear-weapons status, Saudi Arabia and possibly other states would have had a motivation to seek similar capabilities. Some Saudi luminaries have said that the kingdom should in any case now enjoy the same technologies that Iran is allowed to have, but there is little likelihood of this coming to pass in the foreseeable future. There is little basis for an indigenous enrichment programme and no country will legitimately provide this technology. All 48 members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group are enjoined from doing so by the NSG guidelines, which India has also pledged to follow. Pakistan has stated it will not help Saudi Arabia acquire nuclear weapons, and its refusal to join the intervention in Yemen shows that Islamabad and Rawalpindi are under no obligation to Riyadh. This leaves North Korea as the only state-actor option for enrichment technology. Pyongyang, too, should offer a pledge of no onward proliferation.

10. The JCPOA was stronger than the NPT. Going beyond its commitment under the NPT, Iran agreed not to engage in several kinds of activities that could contribute to the development of nuclear weapons, including computer models to simulate nuclear explosive devices and design of multi-point explosive detonation systems.

11. The negotiation process provided a rare point of nuclear-related consensus and common action among the major powers. Given the growing divergence between Russia and the West over so many other fields, including nuclear security, the cohesion of the E3/EU+3 was extraordinary. A similar shared sense of purpose among the major powers will be necessary for steps toward disarmament. It was also important that the powers negotiating with Iran were not just the five NPT-recognised nuclear-armed states. Germany’s role in the negotiations and that of the EU as an independent player in its own regard showed that nuclear-weapons status is not a requirement for inclusion in serious nuclear talks. The role of the EU and the other six powers and Iran will continue with added responsibilities via the Joint Commission that will be established to oversee the agreement.

12. Finally, the Iran nuclear deal is a game-changer in many regards. Among other things, it showed the willingness of states to overcome animosities. Throughout my professional career, which started the year of the takeover of the American embassy in Tehran, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been the most disliked state for almost all of my countrymen and women. There is a lesson to be learned here for North Korea, which justifies its nuclear weapons programme on grounds of American ‘hostility’. To the extent that there is any such sense of hostility toward North Korea, it is far greater toward Iran. Yet the United States was willing to negotiate with Iran on an equal footing, showing respect for rights and sovereignty. If North Korea were willing to accept similar limits and transparency, it could enjoy similar benefits.

A rising tide lifts all boats. Diplomats everywhere dealing with multilateral nuclear diplomacy, many of whom have been toiling for years without much to show for it, should be invigorated by the success of the Iran nuclear talks.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Erik Jones: The EU Needs to Admit Mistakes

The European Union (EU) is good at writing rules; what it needs is to strengthen the capacity to suspend, ignore or replace rules that are obviously not working or inappropriate in a given situation. In other words, the EU needs to get better at recognising when following the rules is a mistake. This is not going to be a popular argument. Rules are supposed to be rules, after all. Nevertheless, it is vital. So long as policymakers lack perfect foresight, they will never be able to write rules that work in every situation. They will not be able to anticipate the conditions for every possible exception either. Hence they will always need some mechanism to recognise and respond to unexpected situations in a timely manner. In case of emergency, break glass. They will also need some way to hold policymakers accountable for any exercise in emergency discretion. Successful innovations will not always be rewarded but they will be accepted and used to improve the functioning of the organisation; abuse will be punished. That is – or at least should be – the measure of political union.

The EU already has the capacity to ignore the rules. We can all think of areas where the EU has made ‘exceptions’ either for specific countries (firms, etc.) or for limited periods of time. Since I write mostly about macroeconomic policy, I tend to focus on those cases, but they exist in every aspect of European integration. Consider, for example, the November 2003 decision by the Council of Economic and Finance Ministers (Ecofin Council) to set aside the deficit rules for France and Germany. That was not an isolated event; it was the culmination of a series of similar decisions. When Germany first started showing signs of persistent fiscal problems in February 2002, the Ecofin Council decided that it was unnecessary to start the formal procedures for monitoring German finances because it had assurances from the German government that any problem would be corrected in a timely manner.

The temptation is to regard those exceptions as errors – not just by definition, but also, and more importantly, in terms of procedure. When the European Court of Justice ruled on the Ecofin Council’s actions in July 2004, it found that the council had acted inappropriately. As one of the council’s lawyers explained to me many years ago, at least part of the problem was that they needed a super majority to take a decision and they didn’t have a procedure for handling situations where that majority was not present. So they improvised. Subsequent reforms to the stability and growth pact both prior to and during the recent economic crisis have tightened procedures to make things more automatic.

That is an understandable reflex. If rules are rules, then procedures should lead to their enforcement. Nevertheless, the inclination to tighten procedures is self-damaging because it makes the organisation more rigid and less adaptive. In this specific case, automatic rules lock in assumptions about what the future holds in general and how those future conditions will affect different member states. The architects of the new rules for fiscal policy coordination have no more perfect foresight than the policymakers who agreed to the old stability and growth pact or the excessive deficits procedure on which it is based.

A more appropriate response to the Ecofin Council’s November 2003 decision to suspend the fiscal rules for France and Germany would have been a far-reaching reconsideration of the rules themselves. Did the fiscal deficits run by France and Germany at the start of this century threaten the solvency of either country? Was there evidence that fiscal stimulus on the part of France and Germany could ease macroeconomic conditions and improve performance across the EU as a whole? Would the same logic of exception apply to smaller countries like Greece and Portugal that had (potentially) less liquid sovereign debt markets and stood to gain less from domestic fiscal stimulus?

These are questions of substance and not procedure. Any time EU policymakers decide to set aside or ignore the rules, this should be a clear sign of the need for substantive debate. And it is possible that a substantive conversation about macroeconomic policy coordination could have led the EU to be better prepared for the current crisis. The arguments for making an exception are stronger for France and Germany than for Greece and Portugal; a better lesson to draw from the Ecofin Council’s actions would be that large and small countries should fall under different fiscal rules. If Europe’s smaller countries had engaged in more strenuous fiscal consolidation while the larger countries focused more attention on improving macroeconomic performance, we could be in a very different situation today.

Of course, that kind of substantive debate was not possible – either before or during the recent crisis. European policymakers were willing to suspend the rules for fiscal policymaking, but they were unwilling to question why those rules turned out to be inappropriate to the situation they faced in the early 2000s. Instead they looked the other way until circumstances changed enough to restore their initial assumptions. The alternative of opening up a debate about the appropriateness of the rules was never contemplated (or, if it was contemplated, it was quickly rejected).

The fiscal story is a negative illustration; if we look at the evolution of monetary policy we can come up with a more positive account. At various points during the ongoing crisis, the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) has shown its capacity for innovation. Critics of the ECB complain that the institution reacted too slowly and yet such complaints must be seen in the context of the narrowly drawn and precisely defined rules within which the Governing Council has to operate. Each major innovation in ECB policy ran up against the limits of this rule-based framework. Many, like the promise to deploy ‘outright monetary transactions’ to prop up sovereign debt markets for member states in distress or the sustained expansion of the ECB’s balance sheet to promote ‘quantitative easing’, have sparked challenges that the ECB is operating beyond its mandate. So far the European Court of Justice has supported the ECB in its innovations and yet it remains a subject for intense debate.

The point is that even the ECB’s critics have to admit that it has done much to stabilise European economic performance. It could have done better; but it could also have been more absent. Unfortunately, the response to ECB innovation is more likely to be procedural rather than substantive. What the European Court of Justice argued is that it is not competent to enter into a substantive debate about monetary policy. That is fair for a court of justice – as guardian of the rules – but politicians and policymakers should not be bound by the same constraints. Unfortunately, the EU has little capacity to debate the substantive issues that arise as a result of recent monetary policy innovation. Instead, we should expect EU politicians and policymakers to focus on ways to tighten the procedures for decision-making within the Governing Council and to clarify the scope for ECB discretion in both defining and fulfilling its policy mandate. This conversation will not take place immediately, although hints of it have been circulating since 2010. It will become full blown only once Mario Draghi steps down as ECB president – since his leadership, more than anything else, explains why the ECB has been able to do so much. The result will be a more rigid and less adaptive organisation. The ECB’s capacity to innovate when faced with the next crisis will be diminished as a consequence.

The EU as it is currently organised cannot avoid that fate because it lacks the capacity to legitimate exceptions to the rules after the fact. In simple terms, the EU does not admit mistakes. It also lacks the capacity to draw lessons about why the rules failed to work appropriately in the first place. If you don’t admit mistakes, you cannot learn from them – indeed, that may be the objective. Ask any EU politician whether we might want to debate the ECB’s mandate in light of recent events, and they will tell you that is not possible politically to do so. That is the same response you will get to any suggestion that we might want to reconsider some of the fundamental assumptions underpinning fiscal policy coordination – like the assumption that large states and small states should abide by the same rules. The fact that virtually every introductory macroeconomic textbook makes a large state, small state distinction when discussing the role of fiscal policy in an economy that is open to the outside world is irrelevant.

The EU has a political union that is good at making rules but bad at admitting mistakes. They exist – and we can all name them – but they are viewed as aberrations from the ideal of a rules-based organisation. That is unfortunate. Europe’s political union should be better at admitting when it would be a mistake to follow the rules it makes, because admitting those mistakes is the first step in learning from them.

A version of this blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford.

Matthew Harries: Hiroshima as Symbol

It is 70 years to the day since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, on 6 August 1945. Nagasaki was bombed three days later.

The horrible and awesome destructive power of nuclear weapons, combined with the effects of radiation, makes their use, by any compassionate human being, close to unthinkable. But ever since their invention and first use against Japan, observers have also believed that the existence of nuclear weapons changes the nature of war, making the potential consequences of an all-out conflict between nuclear-armed opponents almost limitless in extent, and potentially instant in effect. ‘Even the modern conception of war to which in my lifetime we have become accustomed’, wrote British prime minister Clement Attlee three weeks after Hiroshima, ‘is now completely out of date.’

The global nuclear order can be thought of as a product of these two instinctive reactions. If nuclear weapons are unthinkably horrible, they must be abolished; if nuclear weapons are awesomely powerful, the threat of their use can deter aggression. Global efforts to abolish nuclear weapons are almost as old as the weapons themselves, but the same weapons have routinely been claimed to be one foundation of international and regional stability.

Often, these attitudes reside in separate camps – made up of ‘disarmers’ and ‘deterrers’ – but by no means always. The signal achievements of international diplomacy relating to nuclear weapons have often rested on a pragmatic reconciliation of the two. The founding logic of the Cold War arms-control treaties which first limited, and then drastically cut, the superpowers’ nuclear stockpiles, was one rooted in deterrence just as much as in a desire for disarmament. One political bargain at the heart of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was that the role nuclear weapons played in the security policies of the major powers made their immediate abolition unlikely, however desirable it might have been – but that controlling their spread was nevertheless a global imperative.

Today, though, disarmers and deterrers often do seem like mutually exclusive groups – and nowhere more so, apparently, than in Europe. The 2015 NPT Review Conference’s failure to reach consensus may have been the product of global arguments about the status of the Middle East, but the preceding four weeks of discussion had also featured an exceedingly bad-tempered argument about disarmament. And the opposing poles of this argument were not, say, the United States and Iran, but instead Austria and France.

Austria is now the spiritual leader – complete with an eponymous pledge open to international signature, and an award to show for it – of a movement to draw attention to the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons. The logic of the movement is that any conceivable use of nuclear weapons would be fundamentally inhumane; that nuclear weapons, for this reason, are not useable; and that, as unusable instruments of inhumanity, they should be legally prohibited. France, meanwhile, insists that the humanitarian initiative’s findings are not new; that disarmament ‘cannot be declared, it must be built’; and that deterrence is by no means a thing of the past.

What is interesting about these two poles, however – and what must presumably make life somewhat infuriating for the representatives of countries located in between them – is that they are not entirely mutually exclusive. Nuclear use would be catastrophic and, other than on a very limited scale, inherently inhumane. Yet the quiet reality of today’s international major-power system is that it relies, at least in the background, on the dampening effect of nuclear deterrence. These are descriptive statements, and the problem of course arises in moving to the prescriptive. It is nevertheless worth pointing out that there is nothing to stop them both being true.

There is perhaps no country that knows this better than Japan. The inhumanity of what was done to Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a founding element of post-war Japanese identity, and a primary motivator of Japanese disarmament diplomacy. But Japan is also a country that bases its security on a guarantee of extended deterrence from the United States, including nuclear deterrence. The reluctance of some Japanese officials to fully confront the reality of their country’s actions in the Second World War, moreover, can also complicate the way in which these matters are viewed. China responded churlishly, at the Review Conference, to Japan’s repeated requests to officially encourage visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the comments that ‘there are reasons why those two were bombed’, and ‘when will Japanese leaders … visit the memorial hall of victims in the Nanjing massacre?’

This week will see scores of sombre commentaries on the memory and legacy of Hiroshima. The seeming inconsistency of Japan’s position on nuclear weapons, and especially Japan’s approach to tackling its own war record, will probably elicit at least a few takes in the churlish mode, too; and the surge of disarmament advocacy will probably encourage others to write fiercely in defence of the role of nuclear deterrence. These diverging views are possible because, practically since the moment that Hiroshima was destroyed, it has been seen as a symbol both of nuclear weapons’ awfulness, and of the awesome power they might wield in war and in peace.

Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS. This post draws on a chapter, co-authored with Benedict Wilkinson, in a forthcoming festschrift for Professor Lawrence Freedman. See Benedict Wilkinson and James Gow (eds), The Art of Creating Power: Freedman on Strategy (C. Hurst & Co., January 2016).

Elizabeth Pond: A Useful Stalemate in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin's undeclared war on once-fraternal Ukraine has destroyed Moscow's influence on Kiev, forged genuine Ukrainian identity in resistance and ended in a roughly stable stalemate in the eastern 3% of Ukraine that Russia now controls. However bitter that stalemate is to Putin, to Ukraine, and to the West, the least bad option may now be to prolong gridlock while diminishing casualties in Ukraine's Donbas coal region.

This could lock into place Putin's tacit admission of the rising costs of his misadventure, Kiev’s tacit cession of half of Donbas to Moscow and the West’s tacit adaptation of twentieth-century containment of the Soviet Union to twenty-first-century containment of revisionist post-Soviet Russia.

All three players have sought to limit the conflict on their own terms. Ukrainians have always had the inherently limited goal of defence. Putin started his war of choice confident that – in a theatre where Russia enjoys escalation dominance – he could restore the historical predominance of Russians over their Ukrainian ‘younger brothers’ in an operation that would be limited by the quick triumph of his own strong will over the hesitant West’s war fatigue. The West, which has scant geopolitical interest in Ukraine, has given Kiev moral support but has conspicuously restricted its military aid to a minimum in order to avert retaliatory Russian escalation up the chain to, as Putin has threatened, potential use of nuclear weapons.

At the same time, all the players have established their red lines. A year ago, when Ukraine's ragtag army and start-up militias gathered strength and came close to defeating Putin's proxy separatists in Donbas, Putin sent Russian airborne troops into battle (while denying that any Russian soldiers were there). They broke the Ukrainian siege in a matter of days and signalled that Putin would not allow his local proxies to lose. Kiev understood the message and initiated the first Minsk truce, but maintained its own red line in keeping Donbas de jure part of Ukraine.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel set out the West's red line that Russia's violation of international law and seven decades of peace in the European heartland was unacceptable. NATO mounted modest military exercises in the member states Putin was threatening – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – and announced plans to preposition heavy weapons there. Yet in Ukraine itself the West skirted the risk of triggering Russian escalation by avoiding direct military engagement and instead imposing financial sanctions on Russia to raise the long-term costs of Moscow's forcible land grabs.

Stalemate in Donbas is now testing these red lines. Harbingers suggest that President Putin may be the actor who feels the most pressure in finally beginning to admit to himself the damage to Russia from his misjudgements in Ukraine.

He first squandered his initial total influence over Ukraine by prodding his protégé, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, to rout pro-European demonstrators at ‘Euromaidan’ by violence that turned protesters into martyrs. He annexed Crimea, believing that German businessmen were too dependent on Russian oil and trade for Europe to resist this breach of international law. He then proclaimed a crusade to take over the eastern third of today's Ukraine, expecting Russian speakers there to rise up against Kiev and expecting the paltry Ukrainian armed forces to disintegrate before Russia's military behemoth.

He miscalculated. Chancellor Merkel led Germany and the whole European Union to join the US in imposing the sanctions that, together with low oil prices, are already pushing Russia into a major recession this year. Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine never rebelled en masse. The Ukrainian army and militias, despite being vastly outgunned, proved to be formidable fighters and raised the spectre for Moscow of the quagmire of a long guerrilla war. And Putin's war resuscitated NATO and turned ever wider circles of apolitical Ukrainians against Russia.

In the face of these serial tactical defeats Putin is now displaying less ardour for the fight in Ukraine. Lately he has seemed bored with Donbas and exasperated by the feuding criminals and mercenaries who are his separatist proxies there. He is conspicuously not moving to annex that war-ravaged rustbelt. He no longer speaks of ‘Novorossiya’, Catherine the Great's term for the part of Ukraine he was claiming. He reportedly sent his top Ukraine adviser, Vladislav Surkov, to the Donbas last month to tell the separatists to stop murdering each other and to cool their zeal for launching a new offensive. He has not repeated recently his earlier threats to escalate confrontation up to the nuclear level. He has been at great pains to hide the deaths of the Russian soldiers he swears are not in Ukraine from their wives and mothers.

By now there are rumblings of Russian military overstretch, concerns about a revival of anti-Russian rebellion in the North Caucasus through veterans returning from Ukraine, and worry about illegal weapons flowing into Russia across the Donbas border. And despite Western fears of an imminent Russian attack on Ukraine this summer, the 50,000-plus Russian troops massed on and over Ukraine's eastern border have so far done little more than join in the relatively low-level shelling across the Donbas truce line.

Does Putin's softer line hide from the West Moscow's preparation for a new assault in Ukraine? Or do Putin's build-up of troops on Ukraine's borders and menacing military exercises with nuclear-capable aircraft in the region hide from rabid Russian nationalists (as they suspect) a quiet retreat from belligerence by the Russian president? It's hard to tell.

Enshrining stalemate in a formal or informal agreement would by no means ensure a lasting peace in Ukraine. But it could at least reduce casualties and provide some measure of whether the strategic patience Chancellor Merkel has counselled from the beginning is finally dulling Putin's hubris. And it could give Kiev the space to get on with its Sisyphean efforts to rescue the moribund economy, reduce corruption, sideline Ukraine’s nastier oligarchs, and harness the private militias that have saved the country.

Elizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based journalist and author. She has contributed several articles to Survival, most recently ‘Serbia Reinvents Itself’, in Survival, vol. 55, no. 4, August–September 2013, pp. 7–30.

Erik Jones: Countries Do Not Borrow, They Are Bought

A lot of the criticism of peripheral countries in the euro area relies on an implicit comparison with households or firms. The argument goes like this: these countries borrowed excessively after they joined the euro at the end of the 1990s in order to live beyond their means, and then got in trouble when they could not pay back the money. This argument is usually directed at the public sector in countries such as Greece and Italy; at the private sector in Ireland and Spain; and at both the public and private sector in Portugal. These countries have all received their comeuppance and – like any firm or household in a similar situation – they now have to live within their means.

This analogy between countries on the one hand, and households or firms on the other hand, is misleading, if not completely wrong. The reason is that countries do not ‘borrow’ in any conventional meaning of the term – at least not under normal circumstances. When things are going well, countries do not fill out an application with various lenders. They do not have to provide a business plan or show any bank statements. They do not offer up collateral or enlist the support of co-signers. These things only take place once a country gets into trouble and needs some kind of international bailout. ‘Borrowing’ for countries, in a conventional sense, means that something bad has already happened; it is the symptom and not the cause.

In normal times, countries don’t borrow; countries are bought. When we talk about ‘borrowing’ in an international sense, what we really mean is that some foreigner has come into the domestic market to make an investment. Most likely they bought government bonds or some kind of bank paper. But they can also take an equity stake in one or more large companies, they can deposit money in local banks or purchase those banks outright, or they can set up some activity of their own like a branch, subsidiary, or startup. These ‘investments’ from the foreigner’s perspective will show up as ‘borrowing’ for the country that receives the money in exchange for the assets that are bought from abroad.

You rarely, if ever, see this kind of activity in either households or firms. Nobody comes into your home and starts paying your bills, or goes into your firm and starts paying your workers, all with the expectation that you will pay that money back to them with interest at some point in the future. You don’t wake up one morning to find that someone has refinanced your mortgage, or started making you breakfast, or taken over mowing your lawn, expecting you to pay a fee for this service. Money doesn’t just appear in your bank account with a note attached that it might be called upon later. Moreover, if anything like that did happen, you would probably want to get the police involved. It doesn’t matter that these new ‘creditors’ might be doing things better and more cheaply than the more self-sufficient alternative. You would fear the power they suddenly acquired over your daily life, and you would want some say in how that played out.

Countries are not allowed to express that suspicion. On the contrary, the law tells domestic governments not to get involved. That is what capital market liberalisation is all about. It is a commitment to let foreigners buy things in the domestic economy as cheaply and as easily as domestic residents. This is what was promised with the completion of the single market in Europe; it is what motivated the financial services action plan and the Lamfalussy process; and it is behind the current project to create a capital-markets union as well. In all these cases, European countries had to sign up to a commitment to let foreigners buy whatever they wanted at whatever price the market would offer. Moreover, they signed up to that commitment long before the euro ever existed, and whether or not they had any intention to join the single currency. The idea behind doing so was that allowing money to flow from countries with surplus savings to countries that have good opportunities for investment will make everyone better off.

That idea is true in the aggregate. Capital market liberalisation does improve overall market efficiency and so also general welfare. But capital market liberalisation also redistributes income and risk in ways that work better for rich countries than for poor ones. Consider the situation in Italy. A lot of foreigners took advantage of capital market liberalisation in Europe to buy Italian government bonds. Only about 6% of Italian bonds were held by foreigners in the early 1990s; by the late 1990s more than a quarter of Italian government bonds were held by foreigners; that figure rose to almost half the total for Italian government bonds in circulation by 2007. This huge inflow was a boon to the Italian government because the treasury was able to sell bonds at a higher price and therefore a lower rate of interest. But it was a problem for Italian savers who were used to getting a good return on government debt instruments, and who suddenly found themselves priced out of the market. They had to park their savings in riskier assets as a consequence.

What was true for Italy was true elsewhere on the European periphery as well – again, both before the euro was created and whether or not the country joined the single currency. These were not places where people were looking to live beyond their means. They were places where foreigners were eager to take advantage of low prices and high rates of interest (or return) on their investments. And the more foreigners moved into the market to buy up the best assets on offer, the more they pushed the people who struggled to save money in these countries to look for less expensive, and therefore lower quality, alternatives. The foreigners made life cheaper, but the locals had to accept more risk.

Then there was a financial crisis in the United States that started in US mortgage markets early in 2007. This crisis had little direct connection to firms or households on the European periphery, but it had a big impact on international investors who suddenly needed money to cover their losses on bets they made in US mortgage instruments or investment banks. Those investors could not sell their US holdings because the markets there were already in free fall, and so they started to call the money back from peripheral Europe instead. In other words, they started selling the peripheral European assets they had bought in the 1990s and early 2000s. This selling began in 2008, gained momentum in 2009 and became a self-reinforcing process during the period from 2010–12. Foreign investors in peripheral countries sold government bonds and bank paper; they liquidated equity stakes; they closed their bank accounts; they disposed of their banks; and they shuttered any branches or subsidiaries. Meanwhile, other market participants who anticipated this would happen took out derivatives in order to bet that prices on the European periphery would fall. The domestic residents in peripheral Europe did not have the resources to purchase everything that foreigners were hoping to dump onto the markets, and they also could not replace the services or the money that foreigners had once provided. The problem wasn’t that these people had been living beyond their means; it was that they had been pushed by foreign investors into doing other things with their savings.

Worse, the investments made by domestic residents were even less liquid than those made by foreigners – because the foreigners had bought the best assets available, where by ‘best’ we should understand both most secure and easiest to sell. As a result, the economies of those countries on the European periphery suddenly stopped functioning, because the money to finance normal life was no longer available, because huge amounts of wealth had been lost as asset prices fell and because the cost of routine working capital was higher than anyone could tolerate in their business models or household budgets. Moreover, membership in the single currency was not a necessary condition, and the countries on the euro area periphery were not alone in suffering from the sudden loss of foreign capital. They were joined by other countries on the periphery of the European common market as well – including places as diverse as Iceland, Latvia, Hungary and Bulgaria.

The mythical Swabian housewife used by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to illustrate financial common sense in typical households has never experienced something similar to the buying and selling of financial instruments and key services on the periphery of Europe – at least not since the 1920s or 1930s. They haven’t seen their mortgages double overnight, their credit cards cancelled, their loans called in, their bank overdrafts cut, and their wages left unpaid. Neither has any small or medium-sized enterprise in Europe’s industrial heartland. But that is what took place for whole national economies in peripheral Europe. By implication, there is simply no parallel between what happens to household or firms and what happens to countries.

The countries that live on the periphery of the European common market did not choose to live beyond their means; they were convinced to let foreign investors have equal access to their assets. Those foreign investors started buying assets almost immediately – and they continued to do so right up until the US financial crisis started, fifteen years after Europe’s 1992 target to complete the internal market. Then, instead of buying, the foreigners started to sell. The citizens of countries like Greece were left to suffer the consequences.

A version of this blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Iran deal leaves N. Korea alone in rogue states club

North Korea’s rejection of an Iran-style nuclear deal, as conveyed by a Foreign Ministry spokesman on July 21, came as no surprise. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is different from Iran, he said, and its nuclear weapons programme 'is not up for bargain'.

The differences are indeed vast. Whereas Iran’s official policy is to reject nuclear weapons as haram (forbidden), North Korea’s nuclear-armed status is enshrined in its constitution and in its state ideology of the Byungjin line (simultaneous economic and nuclear weapons development). It is far easier to persuade a nation to accept limits on capabilities that are not yet realised than it is to effect a rollback of existing arsenals. As a trading nation with an international outlook, Iran could be pressured by means of economic sanctions and isolation; North Korea’s self-isolation offers protection against economic pressure as long it does not come from China, its one lifeline. Iran’s electoral political system, however imperfect, gives its people a voice; Kim Jong-un is an absolute dictator. For Iran’s adversaries, the economic pressure is backed up by realistic military options. In the DPRK case, South Korea and the United States are exceedingly cautious about employing force lest it escalate to war that would devastate Seoul.

Read the full article at NK News

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Erik Jones: Sustainable Integration as a Response to Draghi’s ‘Imperfect’ Union

When Mario Draghi was asked last Thursday (16 July) whether the recent crisis surrounding Greece had made the monetary union more vulnerable, he gave an astonishingly frank response. Draghi denied that the discussion about Greece made the union more vulnerable; nevertheless, he admitted that:

this union is imperfect. And being imperfect, is fragile, is vulnerable, and doesn’t deliver all the benefits that it could if it were to be completed. So the future now should see decisive steps on further integration.

The question this raises is how best to bring those ‘decisive steps’ about. The Five Presidents’ Report has some interesting ideas, but not all of them point in the right direction. Moreover, the basic assumption behind the effort needs retuning. Europe’s heads of state and government should spend more time thinking about sustainability (or resilience) when they try to push ahead with European integration. In doing so, they have to accept that the number of participants in different projects will fluctuate up and down depending upon their willingness and ability. They also have to accept that different projects will vary in intensity and importance over time – both generally and from one member state to the next. Hence rather than looking to achieve an ever closer union (or unions), the goal should be to make sure that European institutions continue to work effectively across these changes in membership and priority.

Building sustainable integration is a complex challenge for at least two reasons. Firstly, there are some situations where firm commitment to a project is the difference between success and failure. There are not many of these, but they are important. Monetary union as a system of irrevocably fixed exchange rates is at the top of the list. Resilience in this context means making sure that a member state can remain inside the single currency under any conceivable circumstance. Given the level of commitment required, it may also mean screening potential members closely before allowing them to join. I wouldn’t overemphasise this point, however, because it is easy to conceive of situations where even the most ‘qualified’ member states could get into trouble. If we can build institutions to handle those cases, they should also be able to manage the rest. That is what we can learn by examining the history of national currency unions.

Secondly, any decision by one member state to join or leave a project, or to raise or lower its priority, imposes costs on other member states. Here you might think of the internal market or the Schengen area, but you could also drill down to any particular aspect of either of these arrangements. These are institutional agreements that work to make it easier to do business by lowering transaction costs. Business tends to flow along the path of least resistance within such an environment. So any time you change the rules – by increasing or shrinking the membership or by changing how the different members interact – you force businesses to adapt. Resilience means facilitating that adaptation either by making it easier for firms to profit from new markets or by softening the impact of the markets (and opportunities) that may have lost.

Unfortunately, politicians and policymakers tend to confuse these two situations. This is easiest when the costs of adjustment are high. Politicians would rather argue that commitment is essential to the project than accept that adaptation is possible even if very painful. The United Kingdom could leave the European Union without destroying the European project, for example. Indeed, responsible European policymakers should be working right now to make that possible – not because it would be good for either Britain or for Europe to see the UK leave the EU but because it would be bad for Britain and for Europe to make the success of European integration hinge on a vote of the British electorate. UK voters should be responsible for their own fate and not that of the continent. Of course, there will be costs no matter what decision they make. The goal should be to ensure those costs are manageable and not catastrophic. In the worst case, a Britain that exits the European Union should be able to re-join.

The other kind of confusion is when policymakers try to recast a necessary commitment in terms of relative adjustment costs. We can see this in the debate about a ‘Plan B’ for Greece. The idea is that Greece could leave the euro as a single currency without changing the nature of the commitment for other countries. That idea rests on a category error. The euro is not like the internal market or Schengen. It is a different form of commitment insofar as a monetary union is defined as having exchange rates that are ‘irrevocably’ fixed. Of course there is no magical power that holds Greece in the euro. But if Greece were to leave – even ‘temporarily’ – it would change the institution it left behind into something different from a monetary union. Market participants would notice that difference and act upon it. And politicians would have succeeded in transforming a categorical commitment into a question of relative adjustment costs. Hence it would be only reasonable – by the same logic they used to usher Greece out in the first place – to anticipate that other countries could follow. This is not a view restricted to academic economists; European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici made this point explicitly last April. A number of journalists tried to get Draghi to say the same during his 16 July press conference; the fact that he artfully avoided their questions does not hide what we know to be his answer. Here it is worth citing Draghi at length:

I’m not going to comment on politicians’ statements. I only know what our mandate is. And our mandate is to act based on the assumption that Greece is, of course, and will be a member of the euro area.

The responsible course of action in the context of a categorical commitment is to find some way for Greece to remain a member of the euro under any conceivable circumstance. That means European policymakers have to find some way to resolve and recapitalise Greek financial institutions, to separate the fate of Greek banks from Greek government finances, and to allow the Greek government to default. These are not only conceivable scenarios but also necessary conditions for Greece to remain in the euro. By making it possible for these things to come to pass, European policymakers will succeed in making the euro more resilient insofar as it cannot be hostage to the fate of any one country. If allowing Greece to default inside the euro requires some kind of change in the legal framework, the reform will be worth the effort. European integration will become more sustainable as a consequence.

Europe will become weaker and not stronger if Greece exits from the euro. By the same token, Europe will become more fragile and not more resilient if can be held hostage to the outcome of the UK referendum. Europe’s leaders need to focus on fostering sustainable integration if they are to avoid these pitfalls. They will have to look beyond the Five Presidents’ Report to achieve that objective. A more perfect, less fragile, and less vulnerable union will be their reward.

A version of this blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford.

Jeffrey Mazo: Feat of Discovery, Feet of Clay

Over the last few days, we’ve been seeing some spectacular images of Pluto and its moons from the New Horizons spacecraft, which made its closest approach on Tuesday after a nine-year trip. Mankind has now conducted missions to all nine planets (although Pluto was controversially reclassified as a ‘dwarf planet’ by the International Astronomical Union in 2006), completing our initial exploration of the solar system. But while the world can legitimately share in this triumph, it should be remembered that it has been a primarily American accomplishment. US spacecraft made the first successful trips to all nine planets, (beginning with Venus in 1962) and the first asteroid fly-past. Only Russia, Japan, India and the European Space Agency have otherwise independently conducted successful deep-space missions. With the exception of the pre-1991 USSR, these can be counted on the fingers of two hands.

This track record is both a reflection of and a contributing factor to the continuing US superiority in aerospace technology. It also illustrates what a nation can accomplish when it thinks strategically. The US space programme is almost unique these days in that it has broad public and political support that does not follow partisan lines. While the manned space programme has had its fits and starts, planetary exploration has kept a sustained focus for over half a century. And given the distances involved, such focus and long-term thinking is critical for individual missions. New Horizons was launched in 2006, and conducted useful science that year during an asteroid encounter and at Jupiter, before going into hibernation (with periodic health checks), during which time it still conducted passive data collection. After its success at Pluto, it will continue to explore other Kuiper belt objects in about five years’ time. (The first such object other than Pluto was only discovered in 1992.) Other US missions have even more impressive track records: the two Voyager probes have been in flight for more than 37 years, and Voyager 1 has left the solar system and crossed into interstellar space.

The US is also the only nation to have developed a manned spaceflight capability beyond low Earth orbit. But it abandoned that capability – the Apollo – 40 years ago. In light of the success of New Horizons, it is sobering to note that today is the fortieth anniversary of the ‘handshake in space’, part of the 1975 Apollo–Soyuz Test Project mission, the last Apollo flight. The US then lacked even an orbital manned capability for six years, until the first Shuttle flight in 1981. Since the last Shuttle flight in July 2011, the US has again lacked a manned spaceflight capability for four years, and will not have one for at least two more (see my post ‘Sanctions and Spaceflight’ from June last year). The Orion vehicle, currently under development, will be the first manned spacecraft with a deep-space capability, but that is nearly a decade away.

Manned spaceflight has always been more of a political than a scientific or commercial project; hence the cancellation of the Soviet-manned lunar programme after the successful landing of Apollo 11 in 1969, and the curtailment of the Apollo moon programme after only six landings, when there was no longer a Space Race to win. In fact it was the cancellation of the last three planned lunar missions in 1970 that made the hardware available for Skylab, America’s short-lived, essentially political response to the Soviet Salyut space station. The political function of manned spaceflight was no more evident than in the Apollo–Soyuz mission. Not only was it made possible by the cancellation of the lunar programme, it had an overtly political purpose and little real scientific justification. It stemmed from agreements made at the 1972 Moscow Summit, which also produced the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I), the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty and the US–Soviet Incidents at Sea treaty. It was, in effect, nothing but a symbol of détente and the end of direct competition in space. Its technical justification was to test a module that would allow US and Soviet spacecraft to dock with one another, enabling either country to launch a rescue mission should the need arise. It never did, but some of the technology survived in later-generation docking modules used for Shuttle visits to the Mir space station, and remains in use connecting a Russian-built module to the rest of the International Space Station.

Without the driver of international competition, the development of manned spaceflight would probably have been even slower and fitful than it has been. Much of that is down to cost – only now are commercial manned space vehicles beginning to be developed, and only because there is a market from governments. Setting aside development costs, the US half of Apollo–Soyuz consumed more than $1 billion in current dollars. New Horizons is expected to cost less than that over its expected two-decade lifespan, including all ground support and data analysis. Even thinking strategically, unmanned space exploration may appear to provide more political as well as more scientific bang for the buck. The potential benefits of long-term, deep-space, manned spaceflight capability – asteroid mining, Martian colonies, even interstellar colonies – remain in the realm of science fiction, even if some may become practical sooner than others. But if we can sustain, as we have done, a 50-year unmanned exploration effort, a similar manned effort could be economically and socially transformative over the course of the century.

In 1942, when a German V2 rocket became the first man-made object in space, the idea of planetary exploration was science fiction. Twenty years later the first spacecraft reached another planet. Now, more than 50 years later, we have visited them all – but not in person. Russian physicist and father of space travel Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857–1935) famously said that ‘Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot live in the cradle forever’. He didn’t live to see space travel become a reality, but he would marvel at the achievement of New Horizons 80 years later. Had it not been for the retrenchment after Apollo–Soyuz exactly halfway in between, who knows where we would be now?

Jeffrey Mazo is Consulting Senior Fellow for Environmental Security and Science Policy at the IISS, and a Contributing Editor to Survival.

Erik Jones: The ECB's Choice

The Greek referendum has left the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) with a political choice that it should not have to make. The ECB will need cover from Europe’s political leaders no matter how this plays out. As with most important choices, this one will make some people very unhappy. We should expect to see opposition emerge both in the media and in the courts.

Worse, the choice that the ECB has to make will unfold in stages. It involves a series of decisions, not a simple one-off commitment. That means Europe’s political leaders will have to insulate its central bankers from opposition for the foreseeable future, and probably until long after the immediate crisis has passed. Finally, this is a choice that will define Europe’s future; not only will it tell us precisely what it means to be a member of the euro as a single currency, but it will also set a precedent for how much solidarity national governments should expect to receive and to offer.

At its core, the choice that the ECB has to make is whether or not to provide the Greek banks with enough liquidity to honour their deposits. That liquidity will most likely take the form of emergency liquidity assistance from the Greek central bank. This is not a simple decision. The ECB has to offer enough emergency liquidity assistance to reassure Greek depositors that they will be able to get access to their money as and when they need it. That is not possible under the cap that the ECB put in place once the Greek negotiations broke down. That is why Greek deposit holders are limited to withdrawing just €60 per day. When the banks finally reopen, they will want to be able to take out more. Only the ECB can make that possible. It will have to decide whether or not to do so.

Again, this is not a one-off decision. If the ECB decides to increase the liquidity that the Greek banks can access, it also has to decide to accept the collateral that they have to offer. This is challenging because most of that collateral is backed by the Greek government. The Greek government missed a payment to the IMF on 30 June, and it is no longer within a European bailout programme. The referendum outcome does not change either of those conditions. Hence it is an open question whether the ECB should continue to accept Greek government-backed assets as collateral. The ECB could delay giving an answer while the referendum was on the horizon; now that the referendum has passed, the ECB will need some new justification for pretending that the events of 30 June did not happen or do not matter. That is why the Governing Council chose to increase the discount (or ‘haircut’) it requires to accept Greek-government-backed collateral the day after the referendum took place. That decision was just an acknowledgment of reality and not a clear sign of what is to follow.

Moreover, the Greek government has a number of other payments to make for which it does not have the resources – including the repayment, on 20 July, of bonds held by the ECB itself. If the Greek government were to miss that repayment, then the ECB would have to justify how the Greek banks could use government-backed assets as collateral given that the Greek government had already failed to honour its obligations. Yet without using those assets, the Greek banks would have insufficient access to liquidity, no matter where the ECB sets the cap on its emergency assistance.

If the ECB decides to cut off the liquidity to the Greek banks – or to continue restricting it, which would amount to the same thing given how much liquidity the Greek banks require to re-open – then the question the ECB faces is how to minimise the threat of contagion to other countries in southern Europe. The conventional wisdom in the markets right now is that the ECB has the equipment in its arsenal, including both the promise to buy unlimited amounts of bonds from countries that get into trouble and the broader policy of buying assets from across Europe as part of its programme for quantitative easing. This conventional wisdom assumes that these instruments work automatically. Unfortunately, they do not.

The ECB can only buy unlimited amounts of debt from countries that get into trouble under specific conditions. The governments of those countries have to ask for help; they have to agree to accept supervision over their economic policies; and they have to retain access to private capital markets. Unfortunately, these are not easy conditions to meet. Most governments do not want to admit to the markets that they have a problem – which is what asking for help from the ECB means. Even if they are willing to admit that they have a problem, they do not want to accept European supervision over their economic policymaking. And they have little time to negotiate over terms and conditions because they face the risk that they will lose access to private capital markets. In other words, what sounds like a powerful instrument is actually very difficult to use in practice. That is why the Spanish government refused to ask for help from the ECB in the autumn of 2012 – even though solving the Spanish crisis was precisely why the ECB created this instrument in the first place.

If the ECB cannot use this more targeted policy of propping up individual governments, then it will have to rely on the more general policy of quantitative easing. There too, however, it is likely to run into trouble. Quantitative easing was only embraced by the Governing Council on two conditions. First, the purchases should be roughly proportional to the size of the economies in the euro area – in other words, if the German economy is roughly 1.5 times the Italian economy, then the ECB should buy €3 of German assets for every €2 of Italian assets. (Actually, the German economy is even larger relatively to Italy, but the numbers are easier this way). This is a problem because when investors get scared in Europe, they are likely to sell Italian assets and buy German assets. This means not only that the ECB will have to add to demand for German assets at a time when the price is already rising, but also that it will not be able to add enough demand for Italian assets to close the spread between Italy and Germany. On the contrary, the spread will widen unless the ECB chooses to ignore its obligation to buy bonds proportionately – which it can do, but only with adequate political cover.

Even if the ECB chooses to buy more Italian assets than German assets, it will become relevant to ask who will cover the losses if the policy fails to calm the markets. This is where the other provision written into the ECB policy of quantitative easing becomes important. The risk associated with purchases of Italian bonds should be held within Italy. That means that the more effort the ECB has to put into buying Italian bonds to calm the markets, the more risk the Bank of Italy must assume for a potential default by the Italian state. You don’t have to believe that the Italian state will actually default to see that this is a worrying dilemma for market participants. Beyond a certain threshold – and we don’t know where that is precisely – the increase in the potential losses from Italian government bonds held by the Bank of Italy will become more worrisome than the purchases of additional Italian bonds will be reassuring. Hence the ECB will have to find some way around this national responsibility for assuming the risk from national bonds to make sure that the crisis in Greece does not spread.

However this turns out, the ECB will need to make a choice for Europe to avoid catastrophe. It can choose to save the Greek banks, and hold Greece in the euro; it can choose to bail out countries that get into distress without forcing them into humiliating admissions of weakness or conditions for support; it can act more stealthily to purchase assets without strict proportionality; or it can finally admit that the risks associated with ECB activities belong to all eurozone countries, and not just those that issue the assets the ECB purchases. These are all political choices and so arguably go beyond the mandate of the ECB. But they are necessary choices and so Europe’s politicians must be prepared to back whatever the ECB thinks is most sustainable. What we know now from harsh experience is that making no choice is actually the worst choice of all.

This essay appears in Italian at Il Foglio.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford.

Erik Jones: Broken Europe

The Greek referendum was a postmodern event, and I don’t mean that in a good way. The question was an ‘empty signifier’: no one could understand its literal meaning, and that literal meaning was no longer relevant in any case. So you can think of referendum as a big symbol that Greek voters could fill with whatever they wanted; hopes, aspirations, worries and disappointments all fit in nicely. Moreover, there was no reason any one person had to interpret the question in the same way as anyone else. On the contrary, Greek politicians tried anything to find a hook that would pull voters to their side of the issue. No wonder Greek society was evenly (if deeply) divided. Is the glass half full or half empty? Is it really a ‘glass’? What is ‘it’? Even the response assignments were counter-intuitive. According to the government, Greeks voted ‘no’ to have a brighter future; according to the opposition, Greeks voted ‘yes’ if they feared the unknown. What’s more, the process itself was controversial. Greece’s detractors decried this whole exercise as cynical manipulation; for Greece’s supporters, it was a celebration of democracy.

This kind of postmodern referendum sheds harsh light on what is broken in Europe. All you have to do is look at the sputtering objections and equivocations of leaders across the European continent to see that there is no straightforward vision of what European integration is all about. Moreover, this was hardly the first time we have found ourselves facing such a plebiscite. Somehow in my mind I absolve the first British referendum of the accusation of being postmodern. The 1992 Danish referendum is a better illustration. The Danish government gave everyone copies of the Maastricht Treaty – which is actually a collection of treaty amendments rather than a coherent document – to every household and asked if they were for it or against it. The Danish people said ‘no’, and so the Danish government asked them to do the whole thing all over again. Of course they pretended that they won concessions from the rest of Europe, like the ability to opt out of the single currency, but in fact those were already in the original document. Worse, the Danish central bank has ignored that opt-out and acted as though it was already inside the single currency. I guess the Greeks don’t have a monopoly on cynicism.

The Irish referendum on the Nice Treaty in 2001 was another postmodern expression in democratic ‘consultation’. The Irish government failed to campaign in favour of ratification because it was piqued over a reprimand by the Council of Economics and Finance Ministers (for running too small a fiscal surplus), and so the ‘no’ camp was able to rally the electorate to vote down the treaty for a host of reasons, ranging from neutrality to abortion, despite the fact these had little to do with the actual document. European Commission President Romano Prodi complained soon thereafter that the Irish obviously hadn’t understood the question. After an ‘appropriate’ passage of time, the Irish government went back to the people and asked them again. Alas, this is not the last time the Irish went through such a process. They did much the same with the Lisbon Treaty. There is nothing more postmodern than repetition. Except repetition.

The French and Dutch referendums on the European Constitutional Treaty also deserve mention. Let’s ignore the reasons these referendums were organised. What is interesting is to look at the post-referendum polling done by Eurobarometer to see why people rejected that treaty in the two different countries. What you will find is that the French and the Dutch rejected the constitutional treaty for very different motivations. The French feared that the new Europe would not go far enough in taming the market; the Dutch feared that it would go too far and threaten their national autonomy. The European compromise was to give both sides roughly the same institutional architecture without referring to the document as a ‘constitutional’ treaty. This was persuasive enough to convince French and Dutch politicians not to call a second referendum.

What is lacking in all this is a clear vision of what the European Union is and how European integration relates to national democracy. That is why Europe is broken. Moreover, the Greeks are neither the first, nor the largest, nor the most insistent member state in pointing out this tension at the heart of European integration – that would be the Danes, the French and the Irish, respectively. (Though, in fairness, the Danes and the Irish are running neck-and-neck in terms of insisting on holding these postmodern referendums. If you want to know why Europe’s leaders are afraid to reform the basic treaty structures of the European Union, look no further).

The problem with the referendum in Greece was that the Greeks were holding it. Now everyone will blame the outcome on unspecified cultural factors. I mean, what would the Greeks know about democracy or about Europe? It is not like they invented either of these concepts? Of course if the Swiss had held such a consultation exercise, then we could have felt more comfortable. Just look at the February 2014 Swiss referendum on ‘mass immigration’. In case you were wondering, ‘immigration’ is another empty signifier.

The Greek referendum not only reveals that Europe is broken, it also gives Europeans an excuse to ignore their own failings. Indeed, that is the most postmodern characteristic of this whole process. The referendum is an empty signifier that everyone can fill with the worst of themselves, creating an artificial feeling of distance from their own problems. What the Greeks and the rest of Europe need to do is exactly the opposite. European leaders have to ‘own’ this problem – where by ‘this’ I mean not just the financial situation in Greece, but the whole broken nature of European integration. If they refuse to accept that challenge, this will not be Europe’s last postmodern referendum. Just look to the United Kingdom, and you will see that much worse is yet to come.

A version of this blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford.

Erik Jones: The Long-Term Consequences of a Greek Exit

There is currently a debate between those who argue that the single currency can more easily survive a Greek exit from the euro than it could have in the past and those who argue that it will be a shock to the markets similar to the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. That debate will only end if the crisis abates or there is a natural experiment. The differences between the two camps are irreconcilable.

There is less discussion of what the longer-term impact of Greece exiting the euro would be. Optimists argue that the euro will emerge as a more disciplined union because member states will know that they will not be bailed out. Pessimists warn that Europe will stagger from crisis to crisis as market participants turn on weaker member states at the first sign of trouble. This seems to be a stark dichotomy and yet it is not.

What both sides are saying is that markets will start to price national assets differently across the monetary union and depending upon how well each country is governed. Hence the longer-term consequence of Greece exiting the euro is a return of geographic risk to European financial markets. The question is how much that geographic risk will cost in terms of economic performance and stability.

There are three reasons to believe that the cost will be high. The first has to do with economic performance. Any difference in bond prices across countries will also affect the price of capital for non-financial enterprises. This means that Italian, Spanish and Portuguese firms will pay more to raise capital and to pay for new investments than their German, Dutch and Austrian counterparts. It also means that larger firms in peripheral markets will have an added cost advantage over small and medium-sized enterprises. As a result, the peripheral countries will grow more slowly and benefit from less innovation than they would otherwise. This will drag down European growth prospects overall.

The second reason has to do with economic stability. The introduction of geographic risk premiums will interfere with the transmission mechanism for European monetary policy. This is the problem that European Central Bank President Mario Draghi warned about at the height of the Italian and Spanish crises in July 2012 and it is the reason he launched the programme for Outright Monetary Transactions the following September. The problem is that changes in monetary policy instruments in Frankfurt have less impact on monetary conditions in the periphery when markets price in geographic risk. Peripheral economies will experience greater macroeconomic volatility as a consequence. Moreover, national fiscal policy will not expand to compensate. On the contrary, the market incentives will be for national fiscal policy to act pro-cyclically by tightening when tax revenues contract and expenditures increase, which is what happens during an economic downturn. Such macroeconomic volatility will create another structural difference between those countries that are privileged and those that are punished by the markets.

The third reason to believe that the cost of reintroducing geographic risk premiums will be high has to do with the efficiency of market infrastructures. Here we should look at the European Union’s real-time gross payment system (Target 2, or T2) and its new arrangement for cross-border settlement in securities (T2S). Greece is a full member of Target 2 and one of four founding members of T2S. Should Greece exit from the euro, European leaders will need to figure out how to unwind Greek positions in both arrangements. We do not have to know how that unwinding will take place to imagine that it will be a shock to the two connected systems. The result will be a change in how peripheral countries access central bank money for payment and settlement. The current systems are built for speed and efficiency; any future arrangement will sacrifice some of those advantages in favour of geographic risk management. Once again the peripheral countries will be disadvantaged.

The longer term impact of Greece exiting from the euro will be the creation of a two-tiered (or multi-tiered) Europe – with one tier suffering permanent disadvantages in terms of the cost of capital, the volatility of macroeconomic performance and the efficiency of market infrastructures. Moreover, this future is consistent with the predictions of both the optimists and the pessimists. Whatever the short-term impact of Greece leaving the euro, there will be expensive and divisive long-term consequences.

This blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College in Oxford, United Kingdom.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Verifying an Iran nuclear deal

Discussions in Vienna this week confirmed for me two things concerning verification of Iran’s nuclear programme by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Firstly, no deal can be acceptable that would preclude the agency’s future access to military sites or nuclear scientists. Demands by the Iranian parliament, the Supreme Leader and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders to prohibit such access must be rejected. Secondly, Iranian failure to account fully for past nuclear work of a possible military dimension (PMD) should not preclude a deal as long as future nuclear activity can be verified. Both of these conclusions revolve around the agency’s Additional Protocol (AP). In force now in 126 states, it is the global norm for nuclear safeguards. Under the comprehensive agreement currently in final stages of negotiation with the six major powers, Iran has agreed to accept the AP international norm. As Iran’s negotiators know, the AP allows for access anywhere in the country where the IAEA has legitimate questions to pursue; there is no exception for military sites, although the access can be 'managed'.

Over the past several years, the agency has visited military sites a dozen or so times in countries that have adopted the AP. Access to scientists is even more common. Iran cannot be given special status that would undermine this key safeguards tool, setting a negative precedent for other states to also demand. As IAEA officials put it privately, while it would be good to have an ‘Additional Protocol plus’ (provisions that go beyond the AP), an ‘Additional Protocol minus’ could cause wider problems.

And by the way, once accepted by a state, the AP in all of its provisions becomes a legal requirement. Iran’s negotiators have maintained that because they cannot presume to speak for their parliament in its ratification role, AP acceptance would be voluntary and provisional.  Until it is ratified, therefore, Iran should not enjoy the full fruits of sanctions relief.

Some sanctions should also continue to apply until the IAEA is able to draw the so-called ‘broader conclusion’ under the Additional Protocol that all nuclear material in the country remains in peaceful activities. Given Iran’s many past safeguards infractions and incomplete cooperation in addressing agency questions, drawing this conclusion will take some time. It can be done if Iran is forthright, but it won’t be done if there remain legitimate reasons for doubt.

This relates to the issue of Iran’s past PMD activities and the degree to which they need to be clarified. I say ‘past’ because there is no solid evidence that weaponisation work continues in the present. Most of the suspicious activity stopped in 2003. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said in 2011 that Iranian activities related to PMD seem to have ‘continued until quite recently’. When the agency in its November 2011 report detailed the PMD concerns, only four of 65 paragraphs mentioned indications of development of nuclear explosive devices after 2003 and the last such indication was in 2009.

IAEA officials rightly remain frustrated that Iran has stonewalled them for many years in addressing the alleged past weaponisation work. The agency’s November 2011 report listed details of 12 kinds of work relevant to weaponisation, for which it had credible indications. To date, Iran has partially addressed only one and a half of those allegations, claiming that the activities in question were for civilian purposes. It continues to claim that most of the allegations are based on forged documents.

Obviously there is no prospect of Iran clearing up the allegations before the 30 June deadline for an agreement, nor if the deadline is extended for a few days or weeks. This should not preclude a comprehensive deal being reached, as long as Iran agrees to allow access to sites such as the Parchin military base and to some of the individuals who are implicated in the PMD-related evidence. Allowing such access regarding PMD sets the proper precedent for future IAEA access rights. Over the initial implementation period of the deal, which will take at least six months, Iran would be tasked with providing this access and reasonable answers regarding the alleged activities in question.

There is no reason for optimism that Iran will satisfy IAEA concerns during the implementation period. Nevertheless, even if Iran continues to stonewall, the IAEA should make an assessment based on the totality of the evidence available by the end of the initial implementation period. As in the case of Syria, the agency may conclude that Iran probably engaged in clandestine nuclear-weapons-related activity in the past, noting as well that this activity appears to have stopped.

Drawing such a conclusion about past work would not preclude the agency in the future from drawing positive conclusions about ongoing nuclear activity. If and when the agency can draw the broader conclusion that all nuclear material in Iran remains in peaceful activities, then remaining UN sanctions should be lifted. If in the latter years of a deal it becomes apparent that the IAEA is not making progress toward being able to draw the broader conclusion, then previously suspended sanctions should be reapplied.

When I came back from Vienna late in the evening of 23 June and read about Supreme Leader Khamenei’s speech of the same day making even more unacceptable demands, I questioned whether he truly wanted a deal. I know Western leaders do, although not so much as to bend to unreasonable demands. A deal must accord verification its rightful place: maintaining IAEA rights and keeping an eye to the future.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Erik Jones: Lessons to Learn (and Not to Learn) from the Greek Crisis

Europe’s heads of state and government held an emergency summit on Greece at roughly the same time that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled a report he had drawn up with support from the presidents of the European Parliament, European Council, European Central Bank and Eurogroup for ‘Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union’. This juxtaposition is only partly coincidental. The ‘five presidents’ have been working on their report because the ongoing crisis in Greece makes it clear to all that there are still important gaps in the architecture of the single currency. Greece is not, however, the only reason many regard further reform of European institutions for macroeconomic governance as inevitable.

Reconsideration of the institutional requirements for a stable monetary union (re)started in October with concern expressed by the European Council about the need for action across multiple fronts to promote growth and employment. It gained momentum with recognition among members of the euro group that ‘closer coordination of economic policies is essential to ensure the smooth functioning of the Economic and Monetary Union’. It became a formal part of the European policy agenda when the European Council called for the report last December, and began to take shape in the form of an analytical note, presented to the European Council in February, diagnosing the origins of the European crisis. It has ultimately evolved into a two-stage process for the completion of interlocking economic, financial, fiscal and political unions.

The crisis in Greece is at best only an illustration of the problems resulting from an incomplete monetary union. Nevertheless, Greece is the lens through which many European policymakers perceive and understand the European crisis. Therefore it is important to pay attention to what we should learn and what we should not learn from the Greek crisis as European policymakers prepare to undertake a comprehensive institutional reform agenda.

The first – and most important – lesson from Greece is that banks should not rely excessively on capital and collateral that is backed by their national governments. The systemically important Greek banks all survived the ‘comprehensive assessment’ administered by the European Central Bank in 2014. In other words, they were sufficiently capitalised to remain solvent even under adverse circumstances. They also had sufficient collateral to gain access to liquidity. Unfortunately, however, those factors held only so long as the Greek government remained creditworthy and stayed within its bailout programme.

Once it became clear that the Greek government would leave the programme in February, the European Central Bank lifted the waiver that made Greek government-backed assets eligible as collateral for routing liquidity operations. That decision is what pushed the Greek banks into their dependence upon emergency liquidity assistance from the Bank of Greece. Fast-forward to the present, that same decision is what has brought the crisis to a head. For a variety of reasons, the banks are likely to run out of access to emergency liquidity assistance before the Greek government actually defaults. The Greek banks would be safe if they had different capital and different collateral. As things stand, they are the canaries in the coal mine. The single currency is the mine itself.

Europe’s economic and monetary union needs a new financial architecture. The five presidents’ report gets that part right. The proposal for a credible backstop for resolution funding and a European deposit insurance scheme would be particularly useful in restoring confidence in the Greek banks. Nevertheless, those proposals would not eliminate the exposure of Greek banks to capital and collateral backed by the Greek government. Hence the report should go further – and it does. As part of this architecture, the single currency needs a centralised system for sovereign debt management to create sound assets that banks can use to collateralise their treasury operations. The creation of a European Treasury, as proposed by the five presidents, would be an important step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, the five presidents identify the right instrument for the wrong reasons. Their report argues that Europe needs ‘more joint decision-making on fiscal policy’. A European Treasury would provide a focal point for the exercise of policy discretion through collective decision-making. The second lesson from the Greek crisis, however, is that Europeans do not want collective decision-making on fiscal policy. Instead, they want to have autonomy over who to tax and how to spend. They also want autonomy over entitlements and incentives. Most of all, they will preserve that autonomy even at great risk. For example, German politicians refuse to be ‘blackmailed’ into bailing out the Greek state (supporting Greek pensions or subsidising Greek public-sector employment) even at the risk of a Greek default sparking a humanitarian crisis followed by a Greek exit from the single currency; Greek politicians refuse to concede on pensions, privatisations or other fiscal targets even though they may ultimately run out of cash.

Such disagreements over fiscal discretionary matters are not uncommon. You can find wide divergences in fiscal practices across US state governments like those of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. You can also find numerous examples of secessionist movements rooted in demands for greater fiscal autonomy – as in Belgium, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. Collective decision-making over fiscal matters requires a high degree of solidarity. What Greece reveals is that such solidarity is largely absent at the European level. This does not preclude the possibility that future generations will be able to make more decisions in common but it does suggest that that future is not now.

Discretionary policy is not only about who pays and who benefits. It is also about the goals of macroeconomic governance – including aggregate demand management. The five presidents seem to believe that Greece and other peripheral countries would be better off if there were some fiscal mechanism for aggregate demand management at the European level. That is why the five presidents call for a European Treasury. The passage is worth quoting at length:

There are many ways for a currency union to progress towards a Fiscal Union. Yet, while the degree to which currency unions have common budgetary instruments differs, all mature Monetary Unions have put in place a common macroeconomic stabilisation function to better deal with shocks that cannot be managed at the national level alone.

There are at least three things wrong with this statement. Firstly, there is no reason to believe that a European Treasury would have done much to support economic activity on the European periphery or in Greece in particular. If you look at long-depressed regions within countries – like the Mezzogiorno in Italy or Andalusia in Spain – it is easy to understand my pessimism. As I have argued elsewhere, the use of fiscal instruments for macroeconomic stabilisation works best over time and not across geographic space. The only exceptions are those systems like Finanzausgleich in Germany, which target inter-regional differences directly. But such systems depend upon a huge degree of inter-regional solidarity that does not exist in most places – even large federal arrangements like the United States. As a result, the putative benefits of federal fiscal systems are wildly overrated even as the political costs of common fiscal institutions threaten the unity of countries as mentioned above. The ongoing campaign by right-wing Republicans to ‘defund’ the US federal government is an added example.

A second problem is figuring out which ‘mature Monetary Unions’ the five presidents have in their dataset. The Belgium–Luxembourg economic and monetary union did not have a common treasury for macroeconomic stabilisation policy. Moreover, efforts by Belgium to engage in aggregate demand stabilisation in the 1980s played a large role in generating enthusiasm among the Luxembourgers to build their own central bank and join a different ‘common currency’ – meaning one in which Belgium was no longer primus inter pares. As for big financial areas like the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, they developed unified treasury operations long before economists even understood notions of aggregate demand management. Their goal was to create stable instruments for the management of government finances. In this goal, they were aided and abetted by banks who sought to profit from providing finance to sovereign authorities. Over time, banks and sovereigns developed a symbiotic relationship with sovereign debt instruments evolving into a universally recognised ‘risk free’ asset to use in treasury operations.

This common ‘risk-free’ asset is what the euro area currently lacks and the five presidents should seek to replace. Otherwise domestic banking systems will continue to remain bound to local sovereign authorities much as the Greek banks are bound to the Greek state. This bank–sovereign linkage highlights the third problem with the statement in the five presidents’ report. They say that ‘the degree to which currency unions have common budgetary instruments differs’. That is undeniable given the wide variety of instruments that are available for government financing. Nevertheless, there is a point of commonality as well. That shared attribute is the preference that financial market participants have for one instrument within each monetary union over all the rest when they engage in a flight to liquidity or a flight to safety.

That order of preferences is true in the euro area as well. The problem is that the instruments most preferred by financial actors in times of duress are bunds, which are issued by a single participating country – Germany. This is a third lesson from the Greek crisis. It is hard to think of any other ‘mature Monetary Union’ that has a similar arrangement. And it is easy to see how such an arrangement could be unstable, particularly if there is less supply of that instrument within the monetary union than there is demand for liquidity and safety. If Greek banks held ‘eurobonds’ or some other shared ‘risk-free’ asset, there would be no banking crisis in Greece today and there would be no risk that a default by the Greek government would force Greece to exit the euro as a common currency – any more than Detroit (or California, etc.) was forced to exit the dollar.

Mere mention of the word ‘eurobonds’ is likely to turn off some readers, who will roll their eyes at the political impossibility of creating mutualised sovereign debt instruments. Those same readers all have Visa or MasterCard in their wallets, and have access to mutualised consumer credit instruments issued by banks shared by people across the globe. They probably also work for firms that take both Visa and MasterCard in payment for at least some of their operations. And they continue to use credit cards despite the fact that they know – or have at least heard of – people who have gotten into trouble by running up too much credit-card debt. Somehow the existence of this technology offers nothing to convince them that sovereigns could operate within a similar network that combined both limits on borrowing as a share of disposable income and ongoing assessments of creditworthiness within which the default of a single participant need not bring down the system as a whole. It is easier to pretend that the fault lies elsewhere than to imagine that familiar financial instruments could solve complex public policy problems. The tragedy is that many Greeks may lose access to the Visa and MasterCard networks as a consequence.

Another way of looking at the Greek crisis is through the twin lenses of ‘competitiveness’ and fiscal responsibility. These are long and complex arguments for which the five presidents have two institutional solutions. One is to create national competitiveness authorities like they have in Belgium and the Netherlands to keep an eye on relative wage costs and market-structural reforms. The other is to create an ‘advisory European Fiscal Board’ to provide additional oversight on national processes of fiscal consolidation.

There is something ironic about both proposals. The Belgian and Dutch competitiveness authorities emerged out of beggar-thy-neighbour macroeconomic strategies designed to shift unemployment from the Low Countries onto Germany and France. They worked, but only because Belgium and the Netherlands are relatively small countries. Such measures also created labour-market distortions. Perhaps that is a small price to pay to help prevent small countries from crashing out of the eurozone; nevertheless, it is no panacea. A close look at the data suggests that Greece did not suffer because of a lack of competitiveness – and neither did Ireland or Italy. (Spain and Portugal fit the competitiveness argument more closely. Even there, however, it is unclear that more ‘competitive’ labour markets would have been sufficient to prevent the problems that emerged around the cajas in Spain or government finances in Portugal.)

As for the advisory European Fiscal Board, the analysis confuses cause and effect. Here the fourth and final lesson from Greece is important. The problem is not that the Greek government lost control over its finances; the problem is that the rest of Europe cannot allow the Greek government to default. Moreover, financial market participants have long recognised that fact. That explains why the spreads between Greek and German assets were so narrow for much of the history of the single currency. Again the explanation points back to the link between Greek government finances and the stability of the Greek banks. If this link were severed, then Greek policymakers would face market discipline.

Market discipline on sovereign borrowing is hardly perfect and the Greeks might have gotten into trouble nonetheless. The difference in a world with eurobonds or some other common risk-free asset would be that Greek policymakers would not be holding Greek banks hostage and they would also have no reason to exit the euro. The two worst case scenarios – capital controls and a Greek exit from the single currency – would be eliminated not because of the advice of a European Fiscal Board but by the circulation of a shared risk-free asset for use across the monetary union.

A version of this blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College in Oxford, United Kingdom.

Jeffrey Mazo: The Pope’s Divisions

It has been less than a decade since climate change began to emerge at the top of the international agenda. In March 2007, in his first major address after taking office, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there was an urgent need to reframe the debate from an environmental to a development and security issue, and that it would be one of his top priorities as secretary-general. Six weeks later, on the eve of the first Security Council debate on climate change and security, UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett gave the Annual Winston Churchill Memorial Lecture in New York, comparing the security implications of climate change to a ‘gathering storm’ – the title of Churchill’s volume on the build-up to world war in the 1930s.

It is, funnily enough, in the same book that we first hear of Stalin’s 1935 rejoinder to French politician Pierre Laval: ‘How many divisions has the Pope?’ (Other sources have Stalin saying it to Churchill himself in Moscow in 1944). Unlike Stalin, we cannot, willy nilly, disregard the Pope as powerless or his official teachings with regard to climate change as pointless. As the spiritual leader of more than 15% of the world’s population and representative of a 2,000-year ethical and moral tradition, he may have more soft power than any other individual on the planet. So the publication yesterday of Pope Francis’s encyclical letter ‘Laudato Si’’ on ‘Care for Our Common Home’  is sure to have a major impact on public discourse, and perhaps on policy, in the run-up to the Paris Climate Conference in December. In some respects it is already changing the dialogue.

About one-third of the document deals with issues of Christian, and specifically Catholic, theology and ethics with regard to environmental questions, addressed to Catholic bishops as a contribution to the social teachings of the Church. But the encyclical is nevertheless an open letter to ‘every person living on this planet’. Francis urgently appeals for ‘a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all...Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity.’

Climate change is, Francis says, ‘a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.’ But although the letter has been widely reported as a ‘climate change encyclical’, it in fact covers the global environmental crisis more broadly. Challenges such as pollution, water security and biodiversity are given equal (or greater) space, and collectively they are coupled with social problems such as the declining quality of life, global inequality and weak international policymaking. In a chapter discussing the human roots of the ecological crisis, Francis also touches on topics such as genetically modified animals and crops and genetic engineering more broadly. He blames a global ‘dominant technocratic paradigm’ and ‘modern anthropocentrism’, ‘rampant individualism’ and a ‘self-centred culture of instant gratification’.

The title of the encyclical, ‘Laudato Si’’ (‘Praise be to You’) is a reference to a canticle written by St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecologists and the Pope’s namesake and inspiration. After St Francis, the next thing he invokes is ‘Pacem in Terris’ (‘Peace on Earth’), Pope John XXIII’s hugely influential 1963 encyclical on human rights, politics, international relations and nuclear proliferation. That document was the first papal encyclical to be addressed to ‘men of goodwill’ beyond the Church, and therefore a model for ‘Laudato Si’’. But the connection goes deeper. Francis explicitly compares global environmental deterioration with a ‘world teetering on the edge of nuclear crisis’. ‘Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world. The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now. We need to reflect on our accountability before those who will have to endure the dire consequences.’ (For a discussion of this trope, see my Closing Argument ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’ in the June–July 2008 issue of Survival.) And Francis notes that the 1963 document ‘not only rejected war but also offered a proposal for peace’. It is his ideas for coping with the environmental crisis that make up the meat of Francis’s letter. He calls for an integral environmental, economic, social and cultural ecology based on the principles of the common good, differentiated responsibilities and justice across generations. (I will discuss his ethical position and vision of how to achieve this in greater detail in Survival later this year).

The initial reaction has been unsurprising, in part because the fact of the encyclical and the direction of Francis’s thinking have been known for six months, and the Vatican hosted a conference on climate change and sustainable development in May, with keynotes by Ban Ki-moon and the Pope himself. But even without foreknowledge the response was predictable. The letter has been welcomed by environmental campaigners and scientists, and disparaged by many conservative politicians, particularly in the United States. It is notable that Francis cites US bishops in particular on the need to give greater attention to ‘the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate often dominated by more powerful interests’. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Francis should leave science to the scientists and focus on theology and morality. Another candidate, Jeb Bush, said he didn’t get economic policy from the Pope: ‘I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm’. Both are Catholics. Of course Catholic politicians should not be (or be assumed to be) blind followers of papal fiat, a prejudice that haunted US Catholics for generations and that John F. Kennedy had to address and overcome in his presidential campaign in 1960. But many politicians who reject the Pope’s views on the environment are quick to cite papal opinion or Catholic doctrine as moral and ethical support of conservative social policies. And Francis’s encyclical is a moral, ethical and theological document aimed at making people better (and better off); it is because he leaves science to the scientists that he accepts their conclusions about the nature of the crisis.

‘Laudato Si’’ is clearly intended to shape the international debate and generate a paradigm shift over the long term. But to the extent that the letter has a short-term purpose with regard to the international climate negotiations and the make-or-break conference in Paris this December, however, it is targeted less at the US political sphere than at the world’s 51 Catholic-majority countries. The US, to be sure, is the fourth most Catholic country in absolute numbers, but Catholics make up less than a quarter of the population. Europe has a Catholic/Orthodox majority (it is notable that Francis spends as much time on the views of the spiritual head of the Orthodox Church as he does on St Francis of Assisi’s), but Europe has a unified and progressive position on climate policy. It is among developing and emerging economies in Latin America and Central Africa, in particular, that the Pope’s message is most likely to resonate. (Many US Catholics, moreover, are recent immigrants from Latin America.) Developing countries generally work through the G77 to establish common positions in climate negotiations, but larger blocs are increasingly fragmenting and alliances are becoming more fluid. Brazil and Mexico are particularly important players. In this context, the Pope’s views, especially on the key issue of common but differentiated responsibilities, could be highly influential.

And then there is Russia, one of the world’s top five greenhouse-gas emitters (counting the EU as a bloc) and (along with the US, but for entirely different reasons) one of the chief villains of the Kyoto phase of climate policy. Russia’s position in Paris will be significant. Russia has an Orthodox majority and under Putin the Russian Orthodox Church and the state are increasingly aligned. Neither the Church nor its leadership have taken a stand on climate change and both have stood aloof for the most part from efforts of the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople to bring Catholicism and Orthodoxy closer together. In the short term at least, Francis probably doesn’t have the divisions to bring Russia on board, but he is in it for a long campaign. As a non-believer myself, I’ll nevertheless pray he succeeds in shifting the policy debate, not just in Russia, but in the world as a whole.

Jeffrey Mazo is Consulting Senior Fellow for Environmental Security and Science Policy at the IISS, and a Contributing Editor to Survival.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Limiting Iran’s nuclear R&D

Among the several reasons I was pleasantly surprised by the 2 April Lausanne accord was that Iran agreed not to use anything other than first-generation centrifuges to enrich uranium for ten years. The IR-1 is the Model T of the centrifuge industry – clunky, slow and prone to break-down. Given its limited efficiency, keeping Iran’s programme restricted for now to the IR-1 is a significant confidence-building measure.

Not long ago Iranians were promoting an alternative way of limiting the enrichment output which would have involved replacing the IR-1s with a smaller number of advanced models. The idea was that it wasn’t the number of centrifuges that mattered but rather the amount of enriched uranium produced. But allowing advanced models would have given Iran the capability for more rapid future expansion, so the United States and its negotiating partners pressed to limit both the enrichment output and the way it is produced.

As a result, the 1,000 second-generation models (designated IR-2m) that are now installed at Natanz will be removed and packed away. Although they won’t be dismantled, the decade they spend in storage will see inevitable deterioration. Just as North Korea’s two plutonium-production reactors that were under construction rusted away due to the freeze imposed under the 1994 Agreed Framework, a freezing of Iran’s IR-2m centrifuges should also result in effective disablement.

Iran’s willingness to pack away the IR-2m’s was probably influenced by poor performance indicators. Iran purchased Pakistani versions of the IR-2m from the A.Q. Khan network back in 1995, but in 20 years has never managed to get this model to work well. There is a reason that the 1,000 IR-2ms that were installed at Natanz in the first half of 2013 were never used to enrich uranium.

Iran has thus moved on to experiment with more advanced models: the IR-4, IR-5, IR-6 and IR-8. Several of these machines are installed at the Natanz pilot enrichment plant, where they have been operating off and on singly and in small cascade configurations. Under the terms of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action, Iran was allowed to operate what it had at the time, but not to introduce more or better models nor to do more than it had been doing before the freeze was imposed. When the IAEA revealed in November 2014 that Iran had intermittently fed uranium gas into an IR-5 that had not previously enriched uranium, the United States complained and Iran stopped it.

The rules in existence at the time were not clear as to whether or not the IR-5 feeding was a violation. When the interim deal was extended later that month, the restrictions on research and development (R&D) were tightened in order to remove ambiguities. Under the extension, Iran agreed not to test the IR-2m in large cascades, not to feed gas into the IR-5, not to test the IR-6 on a cascade level with gas and not to complete installation of the partially installed IR-8 at the pilot plant. These provisions were designed to ‘limit research and development on advanced centrifuges that move the machines to the next level of development'.

It would be reasonable for the comprehensive agreement to incorporate similar limits on R&D. The Lausanne accord said Iran will engage in limited R&D with its advanced centrifuges, ‘according to a schedule and parameters which have been agreed to by the P5+1’. Parties have been tight-lipped about those details. Iran also agreed not to conduct uranium enrichment R&D at the Fordow facility for 15 years.

On National Nuclear Technology Day in April 2014, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said ‘scientific progress in the nuclear field should in no way be halted or slowed down’. For the parties negotiating with Iran, however, there would be no point to a nuclear agreement that did not slow the advancement. Iranian pride – which is as well developed as that of any country – will not allow it to stop nuclear progress altogether. Nevertheless, like most of his supposed red lines, Khamenei’s edict on R&D is pinkish.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Erik Jones: Why the New US Trade Agenda Is Such a Hard Sell

Trade policy is in trouble in the United States right now primarily because it is not ‘trade policy’. Instead, US President Barack Obama has framed his trade agenda around parallel agreements on regulatory cooperation that should make it easier for transnational enterprises to distribute their manufacturing processes across national borders without facing redundant regulatory requirements or losing control over intellectual property rights. This regulatory cooperation is a good idea, and yet the devil is in the details. Unlike a more traditional trade negotiation over tariff schedules and market access, both the aggregate and the distributive consequences of this type of agreement are more subtle – meaning both hard to anticipate and hard to measure. Worse, the language used to describe both the process of negotiation and the agreements themselves is largely impenetrable. Worst of all, these are negotiations where fundamental principles are involved.

Let me begin the argument by illustrating the impenetrability of the language. Last week two things happened to stall President Obama’s policy agenda for international trade. First, on Wednesday, the European Parliament failed to vote its support for the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Members of European Parliament (MEPs) did not vote against TTIP, but enough of them looked ready to do so to convince European Parliament (EP) President Martin Schulz to postpone a definitive vote until the autumn. Among many other factors, Schulz calculated that there was no reason for MEPs to battle over TTIP before the US president received the trade promotion authority (TPA) necessary to force the US Congress to give an up-or-down vote on any negotiated agreement.

In a vote on Friday, Congress did offer TPA to the president. This vote was essential for the Obama administration to win approval for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is in addition to – and arguably more important than – than the advantages TPA would offer for TTIP. Soon thereafter, however, the House Democrats voted against a related measure for trade adjustment assistance (TAA). That was the second setback. Since the president needs to sign TPA and TAA together to ensure that enough members of Congress will support TPP (and TTIP), he needs to send TAA back to Congress. Ironically, the Democrats have a much greater historical attachment to TAA than to TPA. They voted against TAA because they have deeper problems with TPP and TTIP. Given this opposition, it is hard to see what the MEPs are to make of the House Democrats’ mixed voting record or how Schulz will organise the trade agenda in the EP along with it.

With this introduction, it is easy to guess why the US trade agenda is so difficult. The avalanche of acronyms is off-putting on its own. Then there is the putative impact on jobs. This is where the difficulty of both anticipating and measuring the impact of regulatory cooperation becomes important. Depending upon who is speaking, the Obama administration and it surrogates argue that the Pacific- and Atlantic-oriented trade agreements will increase either the volume or the quality of employment; the most optimistic members argue that the two agreements will increase both the quantity and the quality at once. Meanwhile, detractors argue that was not the experience with previous regional trade agreements. They worry more about who will lose out from any new arrangement than who will benefit. They also worry about the increase in income inequality that will result from enhanced competition with firms from abroad.

These are all legitimate considerations. Both the opacity of the language and the ambiguity of the employment consequences are important. Nevertheless, there is also a deeper problem. Neither TPP nor TTIP is a conventional trade agreement; as I mentioned at the outset, the two negotiations deal more with patterns of regulatory cooperation than with tariff schedules or market access. This creates two dilemmas. Firstly, negotiation over regulatory cooperation focuses attention on the exceptions rather than the rules. Secondly, negotiation over regulatory cooperation forces negotiators – and, more importantly, the parliamentarians or members of Congress responsible for ratifying any agreement – to debate the principles underlying the regulatory process.

The idea that any process of regulatory cooperation would focus attention on the exceptions rather than the rules seems counter-intuitive – particularly when contrasted with the obvious peaks on a tariff schedule. Nevertheless, that is how the conversation works. In a straightforward trade negotiation you establish the principles for tariff protection and market access, and then you negotiate over the exceptions. The basic line is that free trade is welfare maximising and hence the goal is to liberalise as much as possible. As a consequence it is relatively easy to tolerate exceptions so long as the broader objective remains in focus.

A negotiation over regulatory cooperation is different because it takes place at a higher level of abstraction. The first question is how to come up with a general rule. This sounds a little like ‘free trade is good’, but the object of the rule is more likely to be something like consumer safety, workplace equality, fair competition or some other value. The second question is how to legitimate or justify – with some added rule – why exceptions should exist and which should be tolerated in the interest of coming to some kind of agreement. This higher level of abstraction shifts the focus of attention from the general rule – which lends itself to generalisations – to the justification of exceptions, which do not. It is one thing to ask how far we should maximise welfare through trade liberalisation and another to ask how we justify exceptions to safety, quality or fairness. As a result, the exceptions become the centre of the conversation. If you want to talk about TTIP in the European Parliament, be prepared to wrestle with chlorinated chicken; if you want to talk about TPP in Congress, focus attention on conditions of employment.

These conversations about the exceptions are anything but idiosyncratic. On the contrary, they reveal a lot about the fundamental principles at work in the regulatory process. These are the principles that underlie choices about the best approach to protecting and promoting core societal values. No choice is unambiguously correct; each involves complex trade-offs related to responsibility, innovation, opportunity, justice and all the rest. Moreover, these trade-offs differ depending upon the wider institutional environment – which is to say the clutch of state, market and social relationships within which the regulations are supposed to operate. More simply, the impact of TPP will be different in Asia and the United States; the impact of TTIP will be different in the United States and Europe.

When you add everything together – the complexity of the language, the subtlety of the benefits and the ambiguity surrounding the various trade-offs between important non-monetary values, it is small wonder that the Obama administration’s trade agenda is so hard to sell to Congress or in the European Parliament. Worse, efforts to simplify the sales pitch are likely to make matters worse rather than better by fostering unrealistic expectations and so leaving hostages to fortune. Success is possible in such complex cross-border arrangements for regulatory cooperation. It is also worth the hassle. The European Union’s internal market is a good illustration. But such successes are hard won over decades of sustained effort. That is why I argued in the Journal of European Public Policy almost a decade ago that European experience would be a bad model for a global trade agenda. It remains to be seen whether the same conclusion holds for the two large regional arrangements being negotiated by the Obama administration. Rest assured, though – any progress will be difficult.

A version of this blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College in Oxford, United Kingdom.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Inspecting Iran anywhere, but not anytime

One of the most vexing issues remaining to be negotiated between Iran and the six major powers regards future inspector access to military sites. From a Western perspective, it is a no-brainer that Iran should not be able to hide nuclear-weapons work at military bases. Iran, on the other hand, has a legitimate need to protect military secrets that are unrelated to illicit nuclear activity. No sovereign country, especially one under the repeated threat of airstrikes, would willingly expose its defences.

Iran’s case is dissimilar to that of Iraq, which had to accept unconditional UN inspection after it was soundly defeated in war. As much as one might aspire also to seeing ‘anytime, anywhere’ inspections in Iran, unconditional demands are unrealistic.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei complicated the issue when he said in a 9 April speech that military bases will be off-limits to inspectors. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Crops commanders echoed his apparent edict.

Fortunately, Khamenei’s supposed red lines are often coloured in shades of pink. Last July, for example, he insisted that Iran needed the equivalent of about 120,000 first-generation centrifuges, but Iran later accepted just 5% of this level for 10–15 years. In February he was adamant that a comprehensive deal had to be done in one fell swoop, but his negotiators proceeded with the two-step process that had been agreed: a political framework in spring followed by a detailed agreement targeted for the end of June.

For Khamenei to rule out access to military bases is as unrealistic as the ‘anytime, anywhere’ mantra at the other end of the spectrum. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius insisted on 27 May that France would not accept a deal that ruled out inspections of military sites. US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken similarly said on 8 June that the US would not accept a deal unless access is granted ‘to whatever Iranian sites are required to verify that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful—period.’

After all, the safeguards Additional Protocol, which Iran has agreed to implement, allows for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to take environmental samples anywhere in the country where there is reasonable suspicion of nuclear material- or nuclear fuel cycle-related activity taking place. Military sites are not excluded from the sweeping provision of ‘anywhere’. The Additional Protocol provides for what is called ‘complementary access’ by inspectors to sites in order to resolve questions relating to the correctness and completeness of a state’s nuclear declaration.

IAEA access rights were amplified in the framework struck by the parties in Lausanne on 2 April. As the US ‘parameters’ document puts it: ‘Iran will be required to grant access to the IAEA to investigate suspicious sites or allegations of a covert enrichment facility, conversion facility, centrifuge production facility, or yellowcake production facility anywhere in the country.’

After Khamenei tried to walk back that provision of the Lausanne accord, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi explained that the IAEA would be allowed ‘managed access’. Although he said managed access does not mean inspection, both he and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told legislators that military facilities would not be excluded. Mehdi Khalaji from the conservative Washington Institute for Near East Studies, noted that they would not have said this without endorsement from Khamenei, who, as Khalaji explained, holds private views on nuclear compromise that are more flexible than his tough public posture.

President Hassan Rouhani is also walking a fine line. When asked at a press conference on 13 June if inspectors will be allowed access to military sites and nuclear scientists, tellingly he did not say no. He answered, rather, that Iran will never allow its state secrets to be accessed by foreigners under a pretext. This answer leaves a lot of room for negotiation.

The procedure of ‘managed access’ also comes from the Additional Protocol, which allows a state to ask for arrangements for managed access for various reasons, including in order to protect proprietary or commercially sensitive information. As explained to me by a former IAEA official, this is how it works:

The IAEA tells the state it wants access to a location to perform specific verification activities to determine whether a nuclear activity took place there. Following the defined procedure, the state can say no, that managed access must be applied, and it can propose an alternative that it says will provide IAEA the answer it is seeking. IAEA may accept this alternative, or it may propose another alternative, or it may stick to its original request.

An IAEA request may well result in a stalemate if the IAEA is not satisfied with what Iran is willing to allow. As former US State Department senior official Robert Einhorn argued, the notional managed access provisions that Araqchi described in a 25 May interview, involving inspector blindfolds and covered up equipment, is comically inadequate. A ‘joint commission’ with a majority of Western nations apparently will be established to adjudicate disputes, but ultimately such issues could go to the UN Security Council for resolution.

Iran has suggested that the IAEA could be allowed to take environmental samples near the desired location, while not being permitted to actually go to the location. This may be Iran’s alternative to an IAEA request for base access. Sampling close enough to the facility in question may allow officials to determine whether any activity took place using nuclear materials. If the activity in question did not actually involve nuclear material, however, but was related to weaponisation work, for example, environmental sampling would not be sufficient. Likewise if Iran had undertaken extensive clean-up work to remove uranium traces. In such cases, the IAEA would need to insist on physical entry.

The negotiation should result in access rights that go beyond the Additional Protocol. It won’t have the same ring as ‘anywhere, anytime’, but ‘access where needed, when needed’ is the answer.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the Non-proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Erik Jones: Finance and Britain's EU Referendum

A big unknown in the debate over the UK's planned referendum on European Union (EU) membership is the impact it will have on the City of London, in its role as the financial capital of Europe. There are three reasons that the impact could be negative. The UK referendum debate and European reform negotiations will lessen British influence on the design of Europe’s capital union; they will eliminate any incentive for Britain to sign up to Europe’s banking union; and they raise the spectre that the UK government will find itself outside of future decisions about the shape of European financial regulation (and perhaps even without the support of the European Court of Justice inside the internal market).

The first two points apply whatever the outcome of the referendum, and apply primarily during the referendum campaign. The prospect of exclusion applies primarily in the case where the British people vote to leave the EU. A string of public opinion polls suggest this is unlikely to happen. Nevertheless, the risk is greater than zero, and so even the prospect of British EU exit will weigh on decision-making in the world’s largest financial institutions. And that is in addition to the ongoing tensions between the British government and the financial community over the bank levy, the future status of non-domiciled tax residents and the post-crisis regulatory environment. The bottom line is that the EU referendum campaign is making a difficult situation worse.

Let’s start with the capital union project. This is an effort led by the European Commission to help wean the European internal market off of its excessive reliance on bank financing. The result should be a boon to equity, bond and securitisation markets across Europe, as firms look to alternatives for bank finance and as banks look for ways to refresh their asset portfolios. For this to work, however, it is not enough that firms have access to alternative credit markets; it is also important that savers (or investors) be able to take advantage of the increasing diversity of financial products and the opening up of new demand for credit across countries. Regulation will play a vital role in all aspects of this process – if for no other reason than to avoid the excesses that most policymakers believe caused the financial crisis in the United States. Hence the question is whether the emerging European regulatory framework will differ from or resemble regulations already in place in Europe’s most advanced capital markets, notably the UK.

There are any number of reasons why other European governments would want to push for a different regulatory framework from that prevailing in the UK as part of the capital markets union. Some of these have to do with suspicion that the Anglo-Saxons are too prone to take on excessive risk and too little inclined to protect retail investors. Others have to do with the fact that accessing international credit is a competitive process, and simply uploading UK regulatory norms while making other countries adapt would only reinforce Britain’s first-mover advantage. This is the usual stuff of European politics. What the referendum debate adds is a sense of resentment that the UK government is trying to gain added leverage in addition to the many assets it brings to the table as an established global leader in finance. Perversely, this makes it easier for negotiators to dismiss UK bargaining positions on specific regulatory issues as being disingenuous or excessive. Why should they have to make concessions to the British in this area in addition to having to open up difficult negotiations over basic European competencies?

The concern about a banking union applies more within the UK than in the rest of the European Union. The British government has made it clear that it does not want to be part of the European banking union project – with its single supervisory mechanism, common resolution authority, pooled resolution financing and all the rest. There are good reasons for the UK government to insist on this exclusion at present. But many of those are specific to the present configuration of European financial markets and the current state of financial market disintegration. As the European economy recovers and banks begin doing more business across national borders, the influence of Europe’s banking union on businesses headquartered within the UK is going to increase. So will the power of European resolution authorities in the event that there is some kind of renewed turmoil. These are all reasons why an initial UK rejection of a European banking union could – and should – soften into a more cooperative relationship within the British national interest. The referendum debate makes such a softening of attitudes hard to imagine. If anything, the rejection of any extension of powers to ‘Brussels’ on both side of the referendum campaign makes future participation in a European banking union even more unlikely.

The prospect that the British people could vote against membership in the EU complicates matters further. Were that to happen, the hard-won concessions about decision-making over financial market regulations within the European Banking Authority would be at risk, and the logic of making rules within the European banking union would be more compelling. Such rules would pay scant regard to the competitive position of UK-based banks and the cost of their adjustment to a new regulatory framework. The argument here is not that Europeans would use the rules to put British banks at a disadvantage; rather it is that they would be indifferent to British concerns because UK interests would not be represented at the table. A similar logic applies to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The ECJ would not suddenly turn on the UK if the British were to opt out of the European Union, but it would have little reason to insist on protecting Britain’s place within the international European market. In other words, the ECJ’s recent decision to allow for euro-denominated clearing outside the euro area could be a risk.

None of this spells an immediate end to Britain’s financial leadership. The capital markets union is still slow to gain momentum and the banking union has yet to face a serious test. It may yet be that both European initiatives prove inadequate. And, again, the British people are very likely to vote to stay in the EU. Nevertheless, these issues will weigh on investment decisions. The capital markets union has a game-changing potential, the banking union has already altered the competitive landscape and the prospect of British exclusion from future European decision-making constitutes a significant risk. Taken together, these factors are altering how finance views Britain and they are sure to have an impact on Britain’s financial competitiveness. We just don’t know yet how big that impact will be.

This blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College in Oxford, United Kingdom.

Jeffrey Mazo: Shooting for the Moon

On Tuesday 2 June, at the Royal Society in London, a group of eminent UK academics led by former UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King issued a call for a ‘Global Apollo Programme to Combat Climate Change’. We’ve heard this sort of thing before – in 2008, for example, former US Vice President Al Gore called for an Apollo programme to achieve 100% of US electricity production from zero-carbon sources within 10 years. Barack Obama echoed this call in his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, and a think tank proposed spending $500 billion over the same 10-year period on a ‘New Apollo Program’ to catalyse a clean-energy revolution. But this new initiative is less ambitious in its call on resources, if not in its timetable. Unlike previous, similar proposals, which have either been solely aspirational or lacked practical support, the Global Apollo Programme appears to have some real juice behind it.

The group notes that one thing would be enough to keep greenhouse-gas emissions low enough to avoid dangerous climate change: the cost of producing clean energy falling below the cost of energy based on fossil fuels. The proposed programme thus has a clear, specific research goal: making new-build, base-load energy from renewable sources cheaper than new-build coal in sunny parts of the world by 2020, and worldwide from 2025. Their vision is of a dramatic worldwide increase in publicly funded research, development and demonstration (RD&D) on renewable energy, from £6bn to £15bn a year (and rising in line with GDP thereafter).

This would amount to 0.02% of world GDP and 4% of overall RD&D. Participating governments would pledge to spend an average of 0.02% of GDP from 2016 to 2025, and funds would remain under the control of the governments involved. There would be an international ‘Roadmap Committee’ that would identify and spell out the advances needed at the pre-competitive stage to guide research priorities, following the successful precedent of the two-decade-old International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors.

In a Closing Argument in Survival in 2009 (‘Moon over Manhattan’), I compared the invocation of Apollo as a model for large-scale government-led and funded research and development programmes to a rival model, the Manhattan Project, which produced the first atomic bomb during the Second World War. Although similar in level of commitment, there were a number of important differences between the two. In my view, the key difference was the contrasting paths taken by the two programmes. Very broadly speaking, NASA explored various technological options before selecting one; the Manhattan Project pursued multiple options in parallel, regardless of cost, and construction of factories was begun before the technologies they employed were perfected. The organisational cultures of the two programmes were also critical. The proposed ‘Global Apollo Programme to Combat Climate Change’ would in fact be more like Manhattan than Apollo.

This might seem overly pedantic. But metaphors matter – or there would be no benefit in calling the project a Global Apollo Programme in the first place. On the other hand, since metaphors do matter, the group was probably right in invoking Apollo. The original Apollo programme is widely seen as representing the best mankind can achieve (more so now, perhaps, than at the time, when many people saw it as a waste of money). Nuclear weapons, not so much. And if anything, the Manhattan Project is a more overused metaphor than Apollo. A quick web search I did in 2009 when preparing a talk for the US Army Environmental Policy Institute came up with proposals for Manhattan Projects on, among others, AIDS, the arts, cyber-security, the behavioural sciences, bionic arms, bioterrorism, cryoprotectant toxicity, the economy, education, hair loss, IED defence, infectious disease, Microsoft Windows, nanotechnology, new music technology, poverty, racial equality, real ale and women.

Even if we urgently need a Manhattan Project for climate change, then, it is better politically and practically to invoke Apollo. As I noted in my 2009 article, however, what makes Apollo and Manhattan appropriate metaphors, each in its own way, for large-scale energy RD&D efforts is the degree to which they conform to an ideal: a focused, inspiring and sustainable goal; commitment of resources an order of magnitude above the norm; a willingness to fail, and spend money on failure; and a ‘lean and mean’, flat, open and empowering organisational culture. The proposal launched this week meets the first criterion; others will be under the control of the various participating nations, a recipe for inconsistency and failure. Most critical, however, is the commitment of resources.

The group led by King sees the current low level of public funding for clean energy RD&D (under 2% of total research funding) in the face of ‘the greatest material challenge facing humankind’ as ‘totally astonishing’ and a ‘shocking failure’. They note that it is even more serious in that private-sector investment in R&D in the energy sector is also woefully low: the ratio of R&D to sales is less than half that for consumer electronics and less than one-seventh for pharmaceuticals. Governments pay more than 16 times as much in subsidies for renewable energy production than they do in research to make the cost of such production cheaper. Meanwhile fossil fuels receive more than five times in subsidies as renewables do.

In light of the consequences of climate change, this certainly justifies a significant increase in public spending on renewable energy RD&D. The question is how significant. The figure of £15bn per year mooted as the minimum acceptable scale for the Global Apollo Programme comes from a comparison with the original Apollo Program, which cost about $150bn in today’s dollars, spread out for the most part over ten years. But this is at the low end of the range of overall investment in clean energy the International Energy Agency identifies as necessary to avoid dangerous climate change. Moreover, the world has become much richer since the 1960s. In their peak years, both Apollo and Manhattan consumed 0.4% of US GDP – 20 times the percentage proposed for the Global Apollo Programme and represented by the £15bn price tag. And as I noted in a previous blog post, overall public investment in R&D worldwide is less than optimum: an increase in total public R&D spending to 1% of world GDP while keeping the proportions to different sectors fixed would bring clean energy RD&D up to £15bn anyway.

It takes a bit of chutzpah to criticise the academics who have proposed the Global Apollo Programme, each of whom has a greater depth of experience and knowledge on this subject than I do. But I strongly suspect that many of them would agree with me that a programme with significantly greater commitment of resources would not be a wasted effort and would have a greater chance of success. The difference is one of practicality. We may need a real Manhattan Project for climate change, but experience suggests that we are unlikely to get one. And unlike the moon landing or the atomic bomb, success in climate change is not an all-or-nothing proposition: £9bn a year is not chump change, and a two-and-a-half-fold increase would be nothing to sneeze at. King is quoted in the Guardian newspaper to the effect that many countries, including the US, the UK, China, India, Japan, Mexico, Korea and the UAE have expressed interest in the proposal, which has been discussed by G7 energy ministers and is on the agenda of the meeting of the G7 heads of state in Bavaria on 7–8 June. The ambition is to formally launch the programme before the ‘crunch’ climate summit in Paris in December. Better a half-measure than none at all, and once the half-measure is in place, it can always be scaled up as necessary.

Jeffrey Mazo is Consulting Senior Fellow for Environmental Security and Science Policy at the IISS, and a Contributing Editor to Survival.

Dana H. Allin: America in the Asia-Pacific – Are we there yet?

When does the United States finish ‘rebalancing’ its strategic focus towards the Asia-Pacific and decide that it is adequately ‘balanced’? The question is about more than wordplay, as I suggested to a Pentagon official at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Saturday.

We were speaking after the new US defense secretary, Ashton Carter, had delivered a careful and generally well-received speech that morning. The rebalancing rhetoric, first invoked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (she used the word ‘pivot’) and President Barack Obama in autumn 2011, then repeated in every Shangri-La speech by three US secretaries of defense since 2012, can have both good and bad consequences. On the positive side, it is a statement of some obvious realities: US resources are limited, strategy means setting priorities, the region with half the world’s population is of huge importance (economic and otherwise) to America, and wisdom in managing relations with China could be the single most important factor in avoiding great-power war in the twenty-first century. It is also, as my Pentagon interlocutor reminded me, a necessary signal for the purposes of bureaucratic policy-setting within a massive US Defense Department that contains competing armed services and eternal problems of profligacy and inertia.

The bad consequences flow from the fact that simple statements of strategic purpose can be understood differently by different foreign audiences. So, for example, at the 2013 Shangri-La conference, then-defense secretary Chuck Hagel insisted that the ‘rebalancing should not…be misinterpreted. The US has allies, interests and responsibilities around the globe. The Asia-Pacific rebalance is not a retreat from other regions of the world.’ Such statements have not prevented anxious Gulf Arab countries from adding an exaggerated interpretation of the rebalance to their accumulated anxieties about the future US presence in the Gulf – even though that presence is, and will almost certainly remain, immense.

Sending the right message to Beijing can also be tricky. It is evident that many in China believe that the US intends to ‘contain’ their country, which they appear to understand as preventing its rightful rise to greater wealth and international power. There are indeed voices in the US arguing for containment, but, as Princeton professor Aaron Friedberg writes in the latest Survival, the consensus strategy of Democratic and Republican administrations has been and is likely to remain not containment but ‘balancing’ – meaning, in this usage, maintaining adequate military, economic and diplomatic power in the region to reassure China’s neighbours against Chinese intimidation and encroachments on their interests and sovereignty. Friedberg himself, though hardly sanguine about Beijing’s intentions, rejects containment as premature and provocative, calling instead for ‘better’ – that is to say, more robust – balancing. In a break-out panel on Saturday, he added that US–Chinese strategic competition is inevitable. If managed sensibly, however, the result can be a kind of ‘dynamic stability’ as opposed to a more dangerous and destabilising arms race.

Dynamic stability describes a future in which conflicts of interest remain unresolved, but both sides accept that they are better unresolved than resolved by force. It is a kind of wary but also constructive coexistence. ‘So when both the US and China say that the broad Pacific Ocean is “vast enough” to embrace both China and the United States, we read that as a good sign,’ said Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his keynote speech Friday night. He set the tone for a Dialogue that was markedly less contentious than the one a year ago. Carter followed with a speech that challenged the Chinese for their assertions of sovereignty and projects of land reclamation in the South China Seas. He vowed that ‘the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,’ and added: ‘turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air or maritime transit.’ Even so, much of Carter’s speech was conciliatory, turning a frequent Chinese slogan on its head: the US, he said, seeks a regional ‘architecture where everybody rises and everybody wins’. Whether or not it was revised in response to Carter’s words, the Sunday speech by Admiral Sun Jianguo, People’s Liberation Army Deputy Chief, General Staff Department, was also generally low key.

My colleague William Choong is right to worry that ‘despite US warnings, commitment to further maritime security cooperation with Asian countries, and the beefing up of the American deterrent posture in the region, the fact remains that such “facts on the ground” [the Chinese reclamation activities] seem to remain irreversible.’ Yet not reversing them is not the same thing as accepting them. The two sides should be able to manage their differences even if they can’t resolve them.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.  

Survival interview: Aaron L. Friedberg on the debate over US China strategy

In the June–July issue of Survival, Aaron L. Friedberg, Princeton professor and former Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs in the office of the US Vice President, outlines the American debate over strategy towards China. In the run-up to the 2015 Shangri-La Dialogue, Friedberg [AF] talked to Survival managing editor Matthew Harries [MH] about the strategic backdrop to his article, and about what he will be looking out for when officials and experts gather in Singapore on 29–31 June. [Ed. note: this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity].

MH: In the recent issue of Survival, you lay out the debate that is emerging in the United States over the right strategy to take towards China, and you make the case for what you call ‘better balancing’. So perhaps you could start by explaining what you mean by better balancing; what problem it is supposed to address; and what the United States would be doing in that kind of strategy.

AF: My starting position for this is to observe that over the last 20 years or so the United States, across Republican and Democratic administrations, has had a pretty consistent strategy for dealing with China. There have been variations, but the basic strategy has combined two elements: the need to engage in diplomacy, trade, scientific–educational cooperation and so on; and balancing – efforts to maintain a balance of military power in the Asia-Pacific region that favours the interests of the United States and its allies. Where there has been variation it has been a matter of emphasis and degree, rather than a fundamental shift.

What has happened over the last five or six years, I think, is that that mixed strategy has begun to be called increasingly into question, from a variety of different angles. China’s capabilities are growing. It is wealthier than ever, it is more powerful militarily than it has ever been, and it is starting to assert itself more in its neighbourhood and on the global stage, including in ways which are perceived by many people in the region, as well as in the United States and elsewhere, as potentially threatening to stability.

The engagement side of US strategy, I think, was ultimately intended to encourage China’s leaders to see their interests as lying in upholding the existing international system, rather than challenging it. It was also intended, at least originally – we haven’t talked about this so much in recent years – to encourage political liberalisation in China. What has happened is that people have begun to realise that, at least for the moment, China is not liberalising. To some extent, under the new leadership China has gotten tougher and more ideological than it was a few years ago. In part because of these more assertive behaviours, it has become increasingly difficult to sustain the view that China just wants to become a member in good standing of the international system. It wants to change some things, starting with its own neighbourhood – in particular maritime disputes, but also US alliances.

So China is growing stronger; it is not democratising; and it is behaving in ways that appear challenging. This, naturally, has led to discussion about whether the current strategy is sustainable, and, if not, what should replace it. In the article, I tried to lay out what seemed to me to be six different positions in this discussion, and to make the case that they all involve varying mixtures of these same two elements of engagement and balancing. Everything from ‘we should redouble our efforts at engagement’, and ‘we should not do things by way of balancing which might stimulate a security dilemma and antagonise China’. Everything from that to (and I don’t think anyone is advocating this yet, but some people in the past have talked about it) shifting towards a strategy of containment, where engagement would be minimised, and we would emphasise balancing and military competition. Those are the extremes, and there are various other positions in between.

My own view is that the US is not at a point where it is going to abandon the current strategy, and it is a question of how we are going to adjust those elements. In particular, I think we need to increase the balancing part of things. We need to work harder, together with our friends and allies, to make sure that the balance of power in the region remains favourable to us, and that we remain strong enough to deter efforts by China to challenge or change the status quo through threats or through the use of force. That, for want of a better term, is what I call ‘better balancing’. I don’t think we are going to abandon engagement, or that we should – though there are parts of that policy that need adjustment as well. But the real emphasis, I think, has to be on increasing the balancing part of the strategy.

MH: One aspect of the strategic choice is reading China’s intentions and reacting to them, and it seems that one of your critiques of engagement-heavy strategies is that they underestimate the extent to which China will push the status quo. So I would be interested to know how much you think China has so far succeeded in shifting the regional status quo. China appears to believe it has done so, to an extent, in the East China Sea, in making Japan accept de facto the existence of a sovereignty dispute, but it appears China’s ambitions may be larger in the South China Sea. Do you think that is a fair characterisation?

AF: Yes, I do. Those two are linked, and I would say that we also have to look inland, and look at what they are saying about their interior: the whole idea of a New Silk Road, of developing massive infrastructure projects in China, all the way through Central Asia down into the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and across to Europe. They have very big ambitions, and they are beginning to spend a lot of money, and build a lot of railways, pipelines, roads and so on, that are manifestations not just of economic policy but of a strategic approach to expanding China’s influence and increasing its security.

But, as you say, I believe that involves some significant alterations in the current status quo. Not through conquest, but through the construction of infrastructure. All roads lead to Beijing, figuratively if not literally. This includes new institutions: the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is one, and the Chinese have been working on others for some years, like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and some version of ASEAN+3 to the East. These are a set of institutional mechanisms which will put China at the centre.

When you look to the maritime domain, this is in some ways where I think the ambition to change the status quo is clearest, because it involves physical alteration, and control of waters, territory and resources. As you said, they have been pressing the Japanese to accept their view that there is a dispute. In the South China Sea now, they are doing something that makes undeniable their desire to alter the status quo. That is, to alter the physical landscape, building these artificial islands, expanding little bits of rock into fairly significant outposts, some of which they are militarising. That’s not actually something new: they have made these claims before – somewhat ambiguously, but in general asserting a Chinese right to control most of the waters, surface features and resources of the South China Sea. This is something that the Chinese government has maintained going back to the 1940s.

The difference now is that they have the capabilities to move those claims forward in a much more forceful way. They could say it for a long time, and there were occasional skirmishes and exchanges with some of the other claimants. But it is really in the last few years that they have begun to develop the air and naval capabilities, and paramilitary capabilities, to allow them to go out there, and, in the case of these islands, to build things around which they hope to claim a right to control waters and airspace. So that seems to me to be probably the most powerful and visible manifestation of the desire to change things.

There is another aspect, which is again not something new, and that is the Chinese view that American alliances in the region are relics of the Cold War, do not contribute to stability and are based on what the Chinese refer to as ‘unequal treaties’, using historically loaded language to refer to the alliances that the US has with Japan and South Korea in particular – and that they should fade away. Now some people have said that the Chinese don’t really mean it, that they really do not mind the US being around. That might have been true at some point, and maybe it still is, to some degree. But I think, increasingly, they would like to see the US out of the region, and if that happens – I do not think it will – but if it did, China would naturally emerge as the preponderant regional power, and that too would be a very dramatic change in the status quo.

MH: Presumably, the longer these dynamics play out, the harder it will be for the United States to combine those two elements at the same time. The more that China pushes to change the status quo, and the more balancing that is necessary, then the harder the engagement part will become, not least because both sides have political constituencies to satisfy: Chinese nationalism on the one hand, US self-image and alliance relations on the other. Isn’t there a point where combining the two planks of this strategy will become almost unsustainable?

AF: That point certainly could come, and I think it is the recognition of the tensions between these elements of the strategy that underpins the emerging debate that I tried to describe in the article. When you go back to the early 1990s, this wasn’t necessarily explicitly spelled out, but the idea was: we are well ahead of China militarily, we have alliances, we can maintain a position of strength in the area, and we can engage with them – even though by doing that we encourage their growth, and help them to become wealthier and more powerful. We can do that because we think in the process we’re going to ‘tame’ them, in a sense – we are going to encourage them to adopt a view of the region and of the world that coincides with ours. It’s the sense that this may not be the case that is really pushing the debate.

I don’t think we have arrived at that point yet. It would take a major confrontation or crisis of some kind to fundamentally alter the engagement part of the programme. You mentioned the interests of both sides, and those there certainly are, but there are also strong interests in maintaining the economic relationship. It has perhaps benefitted China more than it has benefitted the United States, but certainly it is important to both countries and there are substantial constituencies which want to see it continue. But even there we are seeing friction. On the Chinese side, there are resentments about American controls over Chinese investment in the United States, American refusal to export certain technologies to China, on the one hand, and on the US side, we’re starting to see it more from the business community, because of some shifts in the policies of the Chinese government – the so-called ‘indigenous innovation’ policies, the increasing demands on Western companies who want to invest in China that they transfer technology lock, stock and barrel, the whole issue of theft of intellectual property. There are lot more tensions in the economic relationship than there were five or ten years ago, as well. So the problems are coming from both sides of the equation, I think.

MH: Turning to the next couple of days, what will you be watching out for at the Shangri-La Dialogue in terms of bellwether indicators: particular language or announcements, phrasings, or non-language – the omission of key phrases – from either US or Chinese officials? What are the big things to be looking out for?

Well, if you were a visitor from Mars, you would find this a tremendously boring event, where people simply get up and read speeches! But if you have the ‘screenplay’ – if you are able to follow the plot, because you have heard these things before – you recognise that, as you said, sometimes it’s what’s said, sometimes it’s what’s unsaid. And it is cross-cutting, looking at what China and the United States both say.

I would expect China to take a tougher stance even than last year, particularly on maritime disputes, and criticising the United States for what it sees as US meddling. I would expect the United States, particularly Defense Department and military officials, to take a tough line on our determination to maintain freedom of navigation. There is not going to be much give on either side there.

The other players are very interesting, too. Last year, I think the most interesting speech was by Prime Minister Abe, calling for rule of law and freedom of navigation, trying to make the argument that what threatens Japan is a threat to the entire international community, to rally support around Japan’s position. I think it was somewhat successful, to the great unhappiness of the Chinese, who didn’t like the fact that he had been invited to speak. So what the Japanese say is interesting and important. A few years ago, one of the most dramatic moments was when a Vietnamese official gave a speech, if I recall correctly, in which he openly denounced the Chinese, who had at that point just dragged anchors over cables that Vietnamese ships were laying, and he openly accused them of unsafe practices. That was the first time in my experience that there had been a direct and open criticism of one government by another. The Russians are always interesting, too; last year, the Russian foreign minister was very tough on the Japanese.

The other thing I would say, and this is not always immediately apparent from the transcripts, but is more what you pick up from conversations in the coffee breaks – which is one reason why this is such an interesting and important meeting. To me, one of the most interesting things is how all this is being perceived by people in the region. My sense has been that in Singapore and elsewhere there has been growing concern about Chinese behaviour, and growing concern about the resolve and staying power of the United States. Notwithstanding the fact that we have been talking about 'pivoting' and 'rebalancing' for the better part of five years, there remains an undercurrent of unease about the US commitment. It will be interesting to see how that is playing out this year.

One last thing: just how do the other players perceive China, and Chinese behaviour? The Chinese have become much more assertive, or even rhetorically aggressive, tougher, in the way that they conduct themselves at this particular meeting over the last several years. I think it is actually quite counter-productive; it reinforces the image of China as a bully that is throwing its weight around. The Chinese are not that good at the public-diplomacy piece of this. They tend to talk and posture in ways that others find menacing. I will be interested to see if they adjust that, or even step it up this year.

Aaron L. Friedberg is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. His most recent book is Beyond Air-Sea Battle: The Debate Over US Military Strategy in Asia (Routledge for the IISS, 2014).

Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Who needs an Iran nuclear deal more?

When negotiators in Lausanne on 2 April reached a framework for a comprehensive deal on the Iran nuclear issue, they allowed themselves 89 days to finish up the details before the 30 June deadline. More than half of that time has now passed. But rather than making steady progress in bridging the remaining gaps, the parties seem to be drifting further apart.

I may be wrong about this, because the officials involved are keeping a remarkable discipline in not revealing the particulars of their ongoing talks. My guess, however, is that in this case no news is not good news. The Iran team side is focused on sanctions relief and apparently is not terribly keen on working through the tedious details of how 13,000 centrifuges are to be removed, 8,500 kg of low enriched uranium down-blended, the Arak reactor core replaced and additional verification measures applied, among other necessary steps.

Iran’s negotiation strategy seems to be to postpone these decisions until the end of the June, when the rush to finalise matters would allow details to slip through the cracks. For Iran, the shorter the agreement the better, in keeping with its contention – challenged by the other parties – that anything not prohibited will be allowed. The Iranians may also believe that because Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has been dealing with the issue for a longer time, he would have the advantage if decisions were left up to ministers to negotiate.  

Most importantly, the Iranians appear to believe that the other side, particularly President Obama, is more needful of a deal and thus more eager to offer concessions. They are wrong, but who can blame them for wishful thinking? One only has to listen for a few minutes to the shrill attacks from Obama opponents in Washington to absorb the meme that he is ready to accept any compromise in order to be able to claim a foreign policy success for his political legacy.

The claim is absurd. Of course, Obama would like a rare diplomatic victory, but not to the detriment of national interests. And he knows that his legacy would hardly be embellished by a deal that failed the goal of blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon. Moreover, not reaching a deal would not harm him politically. Although most Americans support the prospective Iran deal, there was no dancing in the streets as was the case in Tehran when the 2 April framework was announced. The issue is only one of many on Obama’s plate.

For the Iranian government, on the other hand, removing the yoke of sanctions is the top priority. The Iranian people have high expectations of a deal that restores their international trade and removes their isolation. Failure to meet these expectations would put President Hassan Rouhani in political peril.

While dragging its heels in the working-level talks, Iran has been working hard on another front to try to create leverage. In a 9 April speech, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that inspectors would not be allowed to visit military sites. This was echoed by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders. On 20 May, Khamenei insisted that neither would inspectors be allowed to interview Iran’s nuclear scientists.

Taken at face value, these demands mean the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the future would not be able to confirm the absence of undeclared Iranian nuclear activity nor put to rest questions about nuclear activities in the past. Iran’s negotiating partners could not accept either condition. By overplaying his hand in insisting on these conditions, Khamenei would spike the deal.

As in past cases of Khamenei’s red lines, Iran’s negotiators will look for creative ways to interpret his remarks. Last July, for example, he insisted that Iran needed the equivalent of 130,000 first-generation centrifuges. On 2 April, however, Iran agreed to postpone that requirement for more than 15 years. No access to military bases might mean no unrestricted access. Deputy Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi suggested that managed access to military bases under the Additional Protocol may be possible. Managed access cannot mean waiting 24 days to visit a suspicious site as Iran has proposed, however

When the IAEA has reasonable grounds for suspicion, impeding access to individuals and sites involved means it will never be able to judge that Iran’s nuclear programme is entirely peaceful. Unless and until such a judgment is reached, some forms of sanctions pressure must remain in place. If Iran overplays its hand on Khamenei’s conditions, the major powers should hold their ground and let Iran be the party responsible for precluding a deal. 

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Nuclear Rumour Mill

One of the arguments most often raised against the emerging Iran nuclear deal is that it will prompt a proliferation cascade in the region. For years I have worried that if Iran got too close to being able to produce nuclear weapons it would stimulate a similar effort by Saudi Arabia, which in turn might encourage Egypt and others to follow suit. Seven years ago I put out a strategic dossier addressing this issue: Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran.

Concern about the cascade effect is also one of the reasons I support the comprehensive agreement now on the table. Without limitations on Iran’s enrichment programme and the intrusive verification designed to detect, and therefore deter, clandestine enrichment, the proliferation stimulus would be sharper and quicker.

An American critic of the deal who recently spoke in London erroneously claimed that the current interest in nuclear technology in the Middle East is sparked by concerns about US President Obama’s policies toward Iran and the region. As detailed in my dossier, the fact is that between February 2006 and January 2007, 13 countries in the Middle East announced new or revived plans to pursue nuclear energy. It is hard to blame Obama, who at that point had not even announced his presidential candidacy.

True, the Saudis have gone beyond what they said in 2006 about interest in nuclear energy.  In 2008, the kingdom signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States expressing its intent not to pursue uranium enrichment. Now the Saudis also want whatever nuclear technology Iran has, meaning enrichment.

Wanting enrichment is a far cry from possessing it, however. How would the Saudis acquire enrichment technology? Their nascent nuclear industry is at a rudimentary stage. They have no facilities relating to enrichment and no known research programme or specialists in this field. Developing uranium enrichment on their own would take 15 years or more. If they really want to match Iran’s enrichment programme, they naturally would want to buy the technology, but who would sell it?

The 49 members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) have agreed not to transfer any nuclear technology that would contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. There is no standard interpretation of this clause, but clearly it would apply to a Saudi enrichment programme that was initiated to contribute to a weapons option. Although the NSG guidelines are voluntary, the ‘non-proliferation principle’, as it is called, has become an entrenched norm. Any inclination to violate it would put the would-be exporter under intense international pressure.

Five nations that possess enrichment technology are outside the NSG: India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea. Iran obviously would not empower its Gulf rival in this way, and neither would Israel. India, which seeks NSG membership, prides itself on not allowing proliferation-sensitive exports and has strong reasons to keep its export record clean. North Korea may have no compunction against selling nuclear technology to any would-be buyer, but it has no connections with Saudi Arabia and every major intelligence agency is watching to ensure that none develop.

Pakistan is the usual suspect. It has close ties with Saudi Arabia and benefitted from Saudi munificence when its nuclear weapons programme was getting off the ground. Every couple of years a media scoop alleges that Pakistan is on the verge of transferring nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia. A thinly sourced article in the Sunday Times on 15 May was the latest in this line, claiming that Saudi Arabia has taken a ‘strategic decision’ to acquire ‘off-the-shelf’ nuclear weapons from Pakistan. Whatever the Saudis may have decided, however, a transfer requires a willing supplier. As I argued last year in my Adelphi book, Overcoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers, Pakistan has strong strategic, political and economic incentives to keep its nuclear weapons to itself. Just as the Pakistanis resolutely refused Saudi Arabia’s request for aircraft and ground forces to support the Yemen intervention, so too they would refuse a nuclear weapons transfer.

Very little in the Sunday Times article is credible. Take this line, purportedly from a US intelligence official: ‘We know this stuff is available to them off the shelf’. The US intelligence community includes 17 separate agencies and over 800,000 US officials hold top-secret clearances. No doubt reporters can find at least one of them whom they can quote repeating what has been in previous press reports. But responsible intelligence officials do not speak that way. Those who know something about Pakistan’s nuclear programme know that it has no nuclear weapons ‘on the shelf’ waiting for delivery to Saudi Arabia. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is focused entirely on India.  Opening up a second front on its west by becoming involved in the Saudi–Iran dispute would be a strategic blunder.

The real danger is that Saudi money could lure Pakistani nuclear scientists to give it a head start on developing weapons technology. There is precedent: two retired Pakistani nuclear scientists met with al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan in August 2001 to discuss uranium enrichment and other aspects of weapons development. Following that revelation, the military’s Strategic Plans Division, which oversees Pakistan’s nuclear programme tightened its Personnel Reliability Programme to keep a close watch not just over currently serving nuclear scientists, but also those who are retired. Those with the most knowledge are kept on in advisory capacities, reducing any incentive to break away.

Few details about that watch programme are known publicly: how many retired scientists it covers, how they are monitored and how well the programme is funded, for example. I assume concerned governments are quietly asking these questions. When Pakistani officials are asked about the Saudi-related allegations, they flatly deny any chance of a nuclear transfer. I trust their intentions, but it would be good to know that the monitoring programme is robustly implemented, with redundant controls.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Erik Jones: Greek Default and the Politics of ‘Reasonableness’

Last week, my SAIS colleague Filippo Taddei gave an interview to a Bloomberg journalist about the Greek crisis in which he argued that there is no necessary link between a Greek government default and the exit of Greece from the euro area. The reason, Taddei explained, is that a government default is only relevant to Greece’s euro membership insofar as such a default would wipe out many of the assets – and essentially all of the collateral – of the Greek banking system. If that were to happen, then the Greek central bank would have no choice but to give loans to the country’s commercial banks against little or no collateral in order to maintain the liquidity of the Greek financial system. Moreover, everyone is aware of this fact. You only have to look at what happened during the second Greek bailout in March 2012 to see the connection. Hence it is only reasonable to assume that the European Central Bank (ECB) would either accept the extraordinary measures of the Bank of Greece to keep the Greek banking system afloat or come up with some arrangement of its own to restock the collateral of the Greek banking system and restore its liquidity during the process of resolving the Greek government’s default. Indeed, Taddei suggested, people active in European economic-policy circles are already planning along those lines. 

The suggestion that people are planning to support Greek banks with central-banking liquidity during a Greek government default is the reason that Taddei’s interview has been widely cited in financial circles. Here, I should explain that in addition to being my colleague at SAIS, Taddei is also chief economist in the party secretariat of the Italian Democratic Party. That makes Taddei one of the main economic advisors to Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and – as the Bloomberg journalist was quick to point out – the highest ranking European policymaker to go on record as suggesting that there are concrete plans for keeping Greece inside the single currency in the event of a government default. If such plans do exist, and if it is reasonable to assume that European policymakers will use them, then the Greek government can default without necessarily leaving the euro area. 

It is probably safe to assume that such plans exist. Indeed, the need to replace the collateral of the Greek banking system, and support the liquidity of the banks while they repair their balance sheets after a Greek government default, is so obvious that it would be hard to imagine that the Governing Council of the ECB has not discussed the matter at length. Moreover, the policy action required needs relatively little planning. The injection of liquidity into banks is familiar territory for members of the central banking community. There are technical details to resolve that will have implications for who wins and who loses from this extraordinary intervention into the Greek financial system, and these are sure to be contentious. But the basic outline of what needs to be done, and how, is easy to envisage and to convert into a concrete ‘plan’. 

The real issue that connects or disconnects a Greek government default and the exit of Greece from the single currency is not the existence of a plan of action; it is the ‘reasonableness’ of European policymakers and politicians to do whatever it takes to keep Greece inside the euro. This is not a straightforward matter; the technical requirements for the liquidity and solvency of the Greek banking system are only one consideration among many. If we could ignore the rest, the only reasonable course of action would be to prop up the Greek banks. Unfortunately, the other considerations are not so easily ignored. 

To begin with, the act of propping up the Greek banking system could be seen as beyond the competence of the ECB. Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann made this point explicitly in an interview with Handelsblatt last week — claiming that Greece’s future within the monetary union is ‘undoubtedly’ a political decision and also that central banks cannot be held responsible either for the composition of Europe’s monetary union or for giving out financial assistance. This is hardly the first time Weidmann has made such an argument. He criticised Mario Draghi’s policy of buying unlimited amounts of distressed sovereign debt through ‘outright monetary transactions’ along similar lines, and he has remained a persistent critic of the ECB’s outright asset purchases for quantitative easing. Weidmann does not deny that these policies have been instrumental in holding the single currency together; rather, he insists that they are beyond the ECB’s policy mandate and so should not have been used no matter what their benefits. 

At a deeper level, there is also a sense of inequity and frustration. Many members of the Governing Council have had to wind up politically sensitive banks while at the same time pressuring their home country governments to enact painful austerity measures. For the central bank governors – all of whom are recognisable public figures in their home countries – it has been a searing and deeply personal experience. Hence they have little patience for what they perceive as gamesmanship (or worse, technical incompetence) on the part of the current Greek government, and even less tolerance for the perceived ill treatment given by the Greek government to the Greek central bank governor Yannis Stournaras. From this perspective, any ‘reasonableness’ should come in the form of Greek government concessions, and not central bank bailouts. Indeed, by tightening up liquidity conditions within the Greek banking system through restrictions on emergency liquidity assistance, or by raising the haircuts on existing collateral, these central bank governors hope to make Greek politicians come to their senses. 

Any objective ‘reasonableness’ is lost in this contrast in perspectives. Whatever may make sense in technical terms is either unjustified in institutional terms or just plain unjust. Moreover, this is not the first time we have been in this situation. If anything, it is a defining characteristic of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. And Europe’s political leaders have a long track record of embracing policy solutions that have more political than technical merits. If that trend continues, it would be unreasonable to assume that the majority of Europe’s politicians will support doing ‘whatever it takes’ to keep Greece within the euro. This will not stop the ECB from propping up the Greek banking system. The technical arguments Taddei sketches remain compelling. Nevertheless, Europe’s central bankers will have to face the political consequences of their actions. What is unclear is whether those political consequences will do more damage to the single currency than the exit of Greece from the euro.

This blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College in Oxford, United Kingdom.

Alexander Nicoll: Britain’s Election Shocks

Three extraordinary facts on the day after the most surprising British election for many years: David Cameron’s Conservative Party has won an outright majority of parliamentary seats that was predicted by nobody; three party leaders, including Labour’s Ed Miliband, have already resigned; and in Scotland, the vehemently anti-Conservative Scottish National Party (SNP) has swept almost all the seats, ending decades of Labour dominance.

And some immediate observations:

  • The opinion polls, which had consistently been indicating a hung parliament, were spectacularly wrong. While they were right on the vote shares for smaller parties, they failed on the Conservative/Labour split. Instead of being neck-and-neck on 33-34% each, the Conservatives won 36.9% of the vote, and Labour 30.4%. The first indication that expectations were very wrong came with the BBC exit poll at 10pm last night, estimating that the Tories would win 316 seats and Labour 239. This stunned the nation, but actually proved to be an underestimate, with the Conservatives taking 331 seats out of 650 and Labour only 232. Instead of the two parties being close together at between 270 and 280 seats each, the Conservatives hold 99 seats more than Labour. An astonishing victory for the Tories and for Cameron personally.
  • The result is devastating for Labour. After the defeat of prime minister Gordon Brown in 2010, Miliband had retreated into an ‘old Labour’ posture, railing at inequality and promising higher taxes on the better-off, whereas Labour’s greatest successes in modern times have come under the modernising approach of thrice-elected prime minister Tony Blair. This proved a mistake. Now, the loss of Scotland – unless Labour can win it back – will make it almost impossible for Labour to win a UK majority for the foreseeable future. Until yesterday, Labour had 41 seats in Scotland. Now it has one. In England, the Conservatives now have 319 seats, and Labour only 206. Following Miliband’s resignation, there may now be a leadership contest between relative unknowns – signifying a generational change. Miliband’s brother David now lives in the US, and senior party figures have lost their seats, including Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander, who would respectively have had the finance and foreign-affairs portfolios in a Labour government.
  • In a future election that delivers no clear result, no minority party will be rushing to take part in a coalition. While Nick Clegg is seen as having done a patriotic duty by taking the Liberal Democrats into a coalition amidst financial crisis and recession in 2010, the compromises that were necessary – especially a sharp increase in university tuition fees for students – destroyed the party’s support. Having won 57 seats in 2010 on the crest of a wave of popularity, the party now has just eight. Clegg retained his seat, but has stepped down as leader, and most of his senior colleagues who were ministers in the coalition have lost their seats. Without electoral reform – and there is no reason for the Conservatives now to support reform – Britain will not go down the European route of permanent coalition governments. This will frustrate the 3.9 million people who voted for the UK Independence Party, which holds just one seat, and the 1.1m people who voted Green, also with just one seat. But the first-past-the-post system seems likely to endure.
  • Cameron is confronted by a very difficult situation in Scotland, with the SNP holding 56 seats in Westminster instead of just six, as it did previously. The SNP’s agenda is independence, though its leader Nicola Sturgeon says this election was not about having another referendum (the Scots voted to remain in the union by a 55%–45% margin only last September). Rather, she says, it was about defeating the Tories and ending their ‘austerity’ policies. She was amazingly successful, but the Conservatives remain in government, and are only the stronger because of the SNP’s defeat of Labour. Cameron’s remarks in victory are already emollient in terms of meeting the desires of all parts of the United Kingdom, but any further concessions made to Scotland risk causing uproar in England. The result leaves many unknowns about the future of the union.
  • The final observation at this early point after the election is that there will now certainly be a referendum by the end of 2017 on Britain’s future membership of the European Union. Cameron will seek an accommodation from Angela Merkel and other leaders that will help him to declare victory on a better deal for Britain, so that he can argue for a yes vote. If this happens, the vote could well keep the UK in the EU. But the coming period holds considerable uncertainty for Britain’s future and its role in the world.

Alexander Nicoll is Senior Fellow for Geo-economics and Defence, Editor of Strategic Survey and Editor of Strategic Comments at the IISS.

Britain’s Confusing Election

As the United Kingdom prepares to head to the polls on 7 May, here is a roundup of recent Survival coverage of the peculiar state of British politics.

Alexander Nicoll: ‘Britain’s Confusing Election’, Survival, April–May 2015

The political currents that have contributed to the Liberal Democrats’ fall from grace and the rise of UKIP and the SNP (as well as the Green Party, which has a projected share of 7%) are important. They may be testament to instability in politics and to growing disappointment with the big parties. But it seems premature to declare the two-party system finished. Between them, the Conservative and Labour parties captured about two-thirds of the votes in 2005 and 2010, and they are projected to do the same in 2015. The first-past-the-post-system will favour them, unless it is altered (and growing pressure for change can be expected). The two currently hold 55 seats in a 650-seat parliament, and are projected to hold about the same number after the election. The current main challenger – the SNP – seems likely to reach a parliamentary zenith from which it can only decline. The obituaries for two-party supremacy should not be written yet. The immediate problem for both parties is that neither of them may win. It will be a question of what deals can be done.

Alexander Nicoll: ‘Scotland’s election charge’, Politics and Strategy, 21 April 2015

Why not a Labour–SNP coalition? Because for Labour, coalition with the SNP is a dance with death. Its challenge over the next five years will be to win back Scottish voters. If it does not, it will perhaps never again be able to form a majority at Westminster. To enter a coalition with the SNP would be to cede Scotland, which it cannot do. Nevertheless, though Miliband is currently resisting offers from Sturgeon to work with her to beat the Tories, he will probably need in the end to make some arrangement with her.

Erik Jones: ‘Brexit and Grexit, Process and Event’, Politics and Strategy, 11 March 2015

Long and complex negotiations create many different kinds of uncertainty – about financial commitments, property rights, trade relations, market access and political influence. That is why a UK exit from the European Union would be such a shock to the EU economy as a whole. Firms and other market actors would have to slow down the pace of their activity until enough dust settled for them to be able to make plans for the future. The pace of deceleration would start slowly as different actors began to appreciate the implications of the referendum outcome and how they would affect specific economic interests. It would gather momentum as second- and third-order implications became more apparent. And it would drag down European economic performance so long as the conflict between the UK and its European partners continued. This is how a ‘process’ threat unfolds, and it is worth appreciating because there are ways that policymakers can improve (or worsen) the process in terms of its economic impact. Of course, this assumes they cannot find some way to avoid the process altogether.

[Eds. note: Erik Jones will be exploring at greater length the differences between British exit from the European Union and Greek exit from the euro in the upcoming June–July issue of Survival.]

Matthew Harries: ‘Trident and the spectre of unilateralism’, Politics and Strategy, 23 January 2015

But, regardless of its practical import, the transcript of Tuesday’s debate is useful reading for anyone seeking to understand the state of British nuclear politics today. In many ways – as Crispin Blunt, the only Conservative MP to vote in favour of the motion, pointed out – the nuclear debate is still governed by the political fractures of the 1980s. The Labour Party fought two elections, in 1983 and 1987, on a platform of unilateral nuclear disarmament, pledging to cancel the nascent Trident programme (then the planned successor to the UK’s Polaris-armed nuclear submarines), remove US cruise missiles from British soil and get on with disarming the UK’s existing nuclear forces. Both times, Labour was convincingly beaten – for a host of reasons, of course, but unilateral nuclear disarmament came to be seen as one symbol of an electorally toxic swing to the left.

Alexander Nicoll: ‘Britain’s Integration Debates’, Survival, December 2014–January 2015

Today’s anti-European grumbling is on a far lower intellectual plane than the grand arguments in which then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher engaged in Europe, which helped to shape the continent’s future, as well as to limit Britain’s role within it. Eurosceptics may still take as their mantra her 1988 Bruges speech, in which she said: ‘we have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level, with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.’ For them, it is taken as read that Brussels is, day by day, usurping the sovereignty of Britain and its parliament, and that unelected European bureaucrats are taking over the country. Echoing the SNP, they contend that Britain’s potential is being limited by EU membership, even though the UK has not adopted the euro as its currency and currently has the fastest economic growth rate among the larger European countries. They say its interests would be better served by striking free-trade agreements than by being a part of the EU single market. While these and similar assertions could be energetically contested, such debate would obscure what the current storm is really about: immigration.

Alexander Nicoll: ‘UK constitution – a three-act play’, Politics and Strategy, 17 December 2014

Scotland’s vote in September to remain within the United Kingdom was but one step in what could turn out to be a constitutional upheaval. The outcome might be a very different kind of country. Or it might not be. At this stage, it is impossible to tell. As it turns out, the decisive outcome of the referendum did not even resolve the issue of Scotland’s future.

Mark Fitzpatrick: South Korea nuclear cooperation deal not as simple as 123

After five years of negotiation, the United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK) concluded a new nuclear-energy cooperation agreement on 22 April. As a non-proliferation wonk, I am pleased that Washington stuck to non-proliferation principles in resisting further expansion of sensitive nuclear technologies. As a Korea hand, (having served my first diplomatic posting in Seoul and fallen in love with the country), I am pleased that the updated agreement recognises South Korea’s tremendous strides in civilian nuclear energy and provides for special consideration of its spent-fuel management needs.

Often called the ‘123 Agreement’ after Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act that established conditions for nuclear cooperation, the pact did not provide advance US consent for enrichment or recycling of US-supplied fuel. It saved face for the ROK government, however, by not ruling out these technologies.  

The most contentious issue was South Korea’s desire for plutonium recycling via a method called pyroprocessing. Unlike standard reprocessing, which uses liquid solvents to separate pure plutonium from spent fuel, pyroprocessing leaves the plutonium still mixed with other transuranic elements including americium and neptunium and thus not immediately usable for weapons. ROK officials contended that this makes pyroprocessing more proliferation-resistant, but US government experts do not see a substantial difference.

The US worries that possessing this technology and gaining experience in working with plutonium metal would considerably shorten the time it would take a country to build a nuclear weapon. This concern is not specific to South Korea. With limited exceptions, all US 123 agreements restrict the enrichment and reprocessing of US-origin nuclear materials. Washington was keen not to make exceptions that would set precedents for other states. In the case of South Korea, there was also a concern that allowing a form of reprocessing in contravention of the 1992 North–South denuclearisation agreement that banned enrichment and reprocessing would make it even more difficult to persuade North Korea to return to the conditions of that accord.

Although ROK President Park Guen-Hye raised the issue herself with US President Barack Obama, he held to the non-proliferation principle. Three years ago, Obama leaned the other way and agreed to allow an extension of the range of ROK missiles in contravention of the spirit of the Missile Technology Control Regime. Whereas South Korean missiles had been limited to a range of 300 kilometres with a 500-kilogram warhead, they now can extend to 800km, reaching anywhere in North Korea. If you are keeping score, it is one to one for non-proliferation purists vs South Korea fans.

The United States and South Korea will continue to review pyroprocessing as part of a ten-year fuel-cycle study that began in 2011. Scientists from the two nations are jointly investigating the technical feasibility of pyroprocessing, its prospects for industrial-scale deployment and its proliferation implications. In effect, the issue has been put off until 2020. As for enrichment, the US will facilitate South Korean investment in a multilateral enrichment consortium in Europe or North America.

Unlike in its agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Taiwan, the US did not ask South Korea to adopt the so-called ‘gold standard’ and legally renounce enrichment and reprocessing. Nor, as in the case of Vietnam, was the ROK asked to make a political statement implicitly sealing off these technologies. As former US chief negotiator Robert Einhorn put it, the US position on pyroprocessing was not ‘no, never’, but ‘not now’. He added that the agreement ‘contains unique elements that the U.S. has not been prepared to accept with any other nuclear partners’. Meanwhile, South Korea is allowed to send its spent fuel to France for reprocessing, although its return in the form of mixed oxide fuel will still be subject to US consent.

Critics will contrast the restrictions on ally South Korea with the enrichment allowed to antagonist Iran. But the international accord with Iran was not a nuclear cooperation agreement and came with severe restrictions, not to mention a huge sunk cost in sanctions, which South Korea would hardly find appealing.

Postponing the pyroprocessing issue gives the ROK more time also to address the technological challenges associated with its spent-fuel management strategy. Pyroprocessing was only to be the first step in the recycling plan. The next stage would be to irradiate the transuranic elements in fast-burner reactors, which are yet to be designed. In fact, no country has yet made good on the alchemy-like attraction of a fast-breeder reactor. Pyroprocessing might someday be an answer to South Korea’s spent-fuel management problems, but not for several decades. In the meantime, regulations will have to be changed to allow interim dry cask storage, inter-site transhipment and, ideally, direct disposal in deep repositories.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Alexander Nicoll: Scotland’s election charge

The star of the British general election campaign so far is Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the head of the Scottish government. She herself is not seeking a seat at Westminster. Her party is contesting just 59 out of 650 constituencies – that is, only those in Scotland. But the polls suggest it will win almost all of them, compared with just six seats it has held since 2010.

Not only does this create a seismic shift in British politics, because it will deprive the Labour Party of more than 30 Scottish seats (it now holds 41) and deny it the chance to win a majority in parliament. (The Conservative Party is long discredited in Scotland and holds only one seat there.) It also represents an extraordinary development when you consider that, just seven months ago, the SNP decisively lost a referendum among Scottish voters on its central issue, independence. 

Ms Sturgeon is currently omnipresent in election coverage, giving impressive performances in every television studio. This has awoken the country to an increasingly likely scenario on the day after the 7 May election: that she will hold the balance of power and will become a crucial figure for the entire country.

Remember that the party she leads is committed to the breakup of the United Kingdom. It is also committed to the removal of the nuclear deterrent, which is based in Scotland. And its agenda is leftist, more so than that of Ed Miliband, who is himself by recent standards quite a leftist Labour leader.

As described in my recent article in Survival, the polls indicate that neither the Conservatives nor Labour can muster a majority in the election. Neither is likely to be able to bridge the gap solely by allying with the Liberal Democrats, the current coalition partner. This is because the Liberal Democrats, for whom coalition government has proved chastening, will lose seats to the Conservatives, Labour and the SNP.

This leaves the Conservatives without potential allies, except among very small parties: not nearly enough to form a government. Labour, on the other hand, will see several parties represented in parliament that have a broadly leftist agenda: the Liberal Democrats, parties in Wales and Northern Ireland, and most notably the SNP. This could form the basis for a government – almost certainly one that would not command a majority in parliament, but would rely on deals done with smaller parties.

Why not a Labour–SNP coalition? Because for Labour, coalition with the SNP is a dance with death. Its challenge over the next five years will be to win back Scottish voters. If it does not, it will perhaps never again be able to form a majority at Westminster. To enter a coalition with the SNP would be to cede Scotland, which it cannot do. Nevertheless, though Miliband is currently resisting offers from Sturgeon to work with her to beat the Tories, he will probably need in the end to make some arrangement with her.

Launching the SNP manifesto yesterday, Sturgeon pledged to use her influence ‘responsively and constructively, and we will always seek to exercise it in the interests of people not just in Scotland but across the whole of the UK’. But in an interview with the left-leaning Guardian newspaper, she said fixed-term five-year parliaments (introduced by the current government) would offer the SNP ‘huge ability to change the direction of a government without bringing a government down….and that is what the SNP would seek to do’.

It would therefore be able to keep the focus on its main issues for years to come. Boris Johnson, a likely contender to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron as Conservative leader if the party does not win the election, put his view succinctly in the right-leaning Daily Telegraph: ‘He [Miliband] will be sitting in the driving seat, pretending to be steering the car – but all the time he will have clever Nicola next to him, whispering in his ear, and perpetually yanking the steering wheel to the Left.’

Alexander Nicoll is Senior Fellow for Geo-economics and Defence, Editor of Strategic Survey and Editor of Strategic Comments at the IISS.

Erik Jones: The Politics of Conviction and Conviction as Policy

The spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank offer a great opportunity to listen to policymakers explain their views on the evolution of the world economy. For those of us interested in Europe, the focus at this year’s meetings was on the double feature of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis at the Brookings Institution last Thursday. It was a good match-up that offered few fireworks. Both sounded reasonable without departing from their basic positions. Schäuble wants Greece to honour its commitments; Varoufakis wants Greece’s creditors to embrace a new set of priorities for reforms. Both also claimed to speak in the interests of Europe writ large and neither accepted the possibility that interest could coincide with Greece leaving the euro. Hence it would be easy to come away with the impression that whatever the status of the negotiations, things are unlikely to fall apart over Greece. And I suspect that was the goal – to convince investors to view the latest setbacks in negotiations as a reflection of ‘normal’ European politics.

That said, I am unconvinced. Despite the insistence that everything is under control, there was something in the speeches that I heard last week that suggests a different interpretation. I want to frame that difference in terms of two notions: the politics of conviction and conviction as policy. These notions are not symmetrical and the contrast between politics – as a way of influencing collective action – and policy – as a way of using collective action to change conditions around us – is important. Moreover, I think we should focus on a different pairing of speeches, replacing Schäuble with French former finance minister and current European commissioner for economic and financial affairs, Pierre Moscovici, who spoke at the German Marshall Fund Thursday morning. And the argument I want to make is that we have entered a period in the evolution of the European crisis where ideas matter more than underlying economic fundamentals in the political arena and where our policymakers are leaving too many hostages to fortune. In short, we face a very real prospect of things spiralling out of control.

The argument about ideas is an uncomfortable one for me. I believe policymakers are essentially rational, that they are intelligent, and that they really want to make the world a better place. Hence, I like to think that policymakers respond to events in the real world rather than listening to the siren song of ‘some long defunct economist’ (which was John Maynard Keynes’ dismissive phrase for ideas that have no relevance to current events). Early on in this crisis I wrote a paper that posited an empirical test to show how we would know whether ideas or events were driving the policy response. On the basis of that analysis, I concluded that policymakers were responding to events in a flexible and experimental manner. Ideas matter, of course, but not as much as rationality, intelligence and good intentions.

Now I am not so sure. Part of my doubt stems from Varoufakis’ response to a single question. After complimenting his analysis of the situation, my colleague Matthias Matthijs asked the Greek finance minister if it was more important to be ‘right’ or to be ‘persuasive’ in a political context. Essentially the question is whether it is more important to understand what is ‘really’ happening to Greece (and to Europe) or to persuade politicians and voters in creditor countries to do something – anything – to ameliorate the Greek situation. This is hardly the first time Varoufakis has received that question. John Hancock (Manulife) chief economist Megan Greene – a friend of Varoufakis’ – has often teased him about the distinction between being right and being political. Hence it is no surprise that Varoufakis was ready with an answer. He referred to it as ‘the standard question’ and then launched into a story about how he cannot promote ideas he doesn’t believe in and if that makes him a ‘bad politician’ then at least he has the courage of his convictions. It was a great populist line and for a moment I thought the audience at Brookings was going to break into applause. (It is at times like these that I remember Brookings is a progressive institution committed to the use of knowledge in the public interest.)

The problem with Varoufakis’ response is that it assumes that we all subject data to the same interpretation and that conviction – whether his conviction and anyone else’s – derives exclusively from ‘the facts’. Of course he knows that belief has many origins and that rational expectations can result in perverse outcomes. He said as much in reference to the possibility of a Greek exit from the euro. Even countenancing such a possibility could court disaster, he argued. To explain he said, ‘Talking about Grexit is like worrying about being hit by a comet in a universe where comets are attracted to you when you worry about being hit by them.’ This analogy is important because it shows how ideas and causal mechanisms interact. Inadvertently, it also shows the limits of a politics of conviction. Because the more you are convinced of the truth of an argument, the more easily you find confirmatory data. That is how ideas work in this universe: the more you believe them, the more they appear to be true. Hence, so long as they remain wedded to their convictions, Varoufakis and his political opponents will be divided by this dynamic.

The use of conviction as policy is even more problematic. This is another dimension of Varoufakis’ comet analogy and it echoes in Schäuble’s denial of the prospect of a Greek exit from the euro. It was Moscovici, however, who gave the notion of ‘conviction as policy’ its clearest expression. He started his speech by pointing out that he is part of the ‘the Commission of the Last Chance’ (or ‘Last Chance Commission’) because developments are so bad in Europe today as to require immediate and decisive action. That makes an attractive frame for an ambitious policy agenda, but it does leave you to wonder what European voters are to think if the results of this commission are inadequate to the task. Should they give up on Europe like you would give up on getting concert tickets for the last show of your favourite group? I don’t think that is the message Moscovici wanted to project. A new European Commission is not as certain as death and taxes but I suspect that this is hardly the ‘last’ Commission we will see, whatever its measure of success. There will always be a crop of national politicians willing to give us another ‘chance’ to fix Europe. Moreover, I say this without a hint of cynicism: given that I believe most politicians are rational, intelligent and well-intentioned, I am actually relieved by that fact.

When Moscovici spoke about the possibility of a Greek exit from the euro, he left an even greater hostage to fortune. He insisted that there is ‘no Plan B’ because ‘the day you start thinking about a Plan B, you stop believing in Plan A.’ There is a certain logic to that position, but only if you accept the view that Greece can be kept in the single currency no matter what happens. That is not the view that Moscovici expressed. Instead he argued that a Greek exit from the euro ‘would be a catastrophe’. In other words, it is unthinkable and not impossible. The single currency exists because it is irreversible, he explained. ‘If one country gets out, it is no more a single currency…it is a fixed-rate zone, which is weaker.’

This is a sensible argument. I have made this argument a number of times in class and to more public audiences. I have probably even made this argument in writing. To be honest, I cannot remember. Then again, I am an academic and not a European Commissioner who will be responsible for helping to hold the single currency together after a Greek exit. Therefore, I won’t have to face the consequences of having told market participants that a euro without Greece would not be a single currency but a fixed-exchange-rate regime that is weaker for having experienced a Greek exit.

Moscovici also insisted that Greece could not exit ‘by accident’. I think he was trying to reassure the audience that the ‘Last Chance Commission’ would not make any mistakes. Inadvertently, he suggested that a Greek exit would necessarily require some kind of political decision. Presumably it would also need to be planned. Here again we are confronted with a future that is unthinkable rather than impossible. Greece will never leave the euro because European policymakers would never choose that option, and they would never choose that option because they refuse to accept it as an alternative.

This is the essence of conviction as policy. You change the future by refusing to consider scenarios you find unattractive. Hopefully this formula will work out in the end. But in this universe, mistakes happen and comets can hit you even when you don’t worry about them.

This blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’ personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College in Oxford, United Kingdom.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Five ways the Iran talks will help the NPT RevCon

When states assemble in New York on 27 April for a four-week-long quinquennial review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), there will be ample ground for discord. The recommendations for action that were agreed upon by consensus at the last review conference (RevCon) remain largely unfulfilled. There will be griping aplenty that the five states allowed nuclear weapons under the treaty have made few tangible steps towards disarmament in this period. Of most concern to Arab states, a conference that was to have been held in 2012 to further the goal of a zone in the Middle East free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction has not materialised.

Yet despite disharmony over the pace of disarmament, the context in which the RevCon will take place recently changed for the better. In the past six months, two of the country dyads that have occasioned some of the most antagonism in past meetings are on a newly positive footing. The US and Cuba are on their way to normalisation, and Iran and the major powers have reached a framework to overcome the long-term crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme.

As a diplomat who is critical of the disarmament pace told me last week, neither of these developments has anything directly to do with the matters under discussion at the RevCon. But she acknowledged that both will contribute to positive atmospherics.

The tentative Iran nuclear accord can be a game-changer in many ways. At a seminar in Algiers last week in preparation for the RevCon, I enumerated five of the ways it should give a boost to the proceedings.

Firstly, it shows that non-proliferation tools work. Iran’s multiple violations of safeguards required by the NPT are what sparked action by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors and then by the UN Security Council. The inspections, resolutions, sanctions, and diplomacy of the past dozen years all contributed to the 2 April framework for a comprehensive agreement. Had Iran gone further down the path of nuclear weapons, the NPT would have been weakened. Instead, the diplomatic process strengthened and underscored the importance of the treaty.

Secondly, the 2 April framework fortified two key pillars of the NPT. It reaffirmed the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy (while leaving unstated whether this right specifically applies to uranium enrichment) and it provided for stronger means of verifying that such activity is indeed strictly peaceful. The monitoring provisions in the tentative deal are more extensive and robust than those employed by the IAEA anywhere else in the world. This sets a good precedent for further evolution of the safeguards system.

Thirdly, the framework contributes to conditions for creating a Middle East WMD-free zone. Lack of trust is a core impediment to the zone goal. Among the reasons for this is that so many countries in the region have not upheld their NPT obligations. Iraq, Libya, Syria and Iran all violated IAEA safeguards in pursuit of nuclear-weapons capabilities. Rectifying Iran’s violations shows how the verification and enforcement provisions necessary for a zone can work. And if the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon is dissipated, it will remove one of Israel’s strongest arguments for not relaxing its nuclear guard.

Fourthly, the framework provides needed glue to the P-5, constituting a rare bright spot in the otherwise dismal relations between Russia and the West. Despite the political and commercial impulses that might have led it to play a spoiler role in the Iran talks, Russia maintained solidarity with the other powers. A key reason was that Moscow really does attach importance to non-proliferation. The priority that Russia gives to upholding the NPT should counterbalance what otherwise could be a disruptive role at the New York meeting over issues such as the broken negative assurances to Ukraine.

Fifthly, an Iran nuclear deal should help promote the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which has long been a top priority for arms-control advocates. Iran is one of the eight states that must ratify the treaty before it can enter into force. With the nuclear talks on the way to resolution, a logical next step for Tehran would be to ratify the treaty. Doing so would steal a jump on the United States, where the CTBT ratification push has been stalled since the end of the last century. Given Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s fatwa against nuclear weapons, Iran’s parliament (the Majles) should have no principled reason to object.

The atmosphere at the Algiers meeting last week itself was encouraging. This was partly due to Algeria’s congenial hosting and generous hospitality. (On a personal note, never have I been treated so well by a conference host.) With Algeria’s acclaimed former ambassador to the IAEA Taous Feroukhi named to preside over the RevCon, the nation has a deserved sense of pride along with a national stake in a positive outcome. The Algiers meeting also reflected a renewed spirit of forward movement engendered by the Iran deal.

In my presentation, I admitted that before the last RevCon, Obama’s Prague speech was also proclaimed as a game-changer. Indeed, his renewed commitment to a world free of nuclear-weapons and the New START arms-control agreement reached in March 2010 set a positive state for the Review Conference that year. Thereafter, however, Obama’s arms-control agenda stalled, due largely to uncompromising partners.

There is still time and scope for Obama to reclaim the disarmament quest. His success in changing US–Cuba dynamics and promoting resolution of the Iran deal show the power of the presidency in the hands of a visionary and determined leader. Good things often come in threes. In his remaining time in office, there are more ways Obama can leave a positive nuclear legacy. Participants at the NPT RevCon will surely have no shortage of suggestions for him.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Erik Jones: What Kind of Europe?

Those who advocate strong action to mitigate global warming are sometimes accused of alarmism and hyperbole, or of writing ‘climate porn’ in describing the potentially dire consequences of climate change. In a Survival Closing Argument back in 2008, ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’, I argued that such apocalyptic rhetoric is not excessive – the risks really are as bad as they are made out to be.

Or maybe not. In that essay I also noted I had a reasonable hope of being proved wrong. Visions of catastrophic climate change are based on worst cases, and predicated on business as usual – in other words, on the assumption that we would do nothing to fix the problem, let alone start acting in time. But even in 2008 this wasn’t the case. That year marked the start of the first commitment period for national emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol and of the UK’s first five-year carbon budget under its landmark Climate Change Act. Energy-efficiency regulations, moreover, which have emissions consequences, had been in place in many parts of the world for decades.

Such efforts were modest, weakly enforced and appeared ineffective in toto, as global emissions continued to follow closely the business-as-usual forecasts. But the dynamics and assumptions of the models used for the projections did not match what was happening in the real world, and the close fit between the curves of projected and actual emissions was to some degree illusory and coincidental.

Last month the International Energy Agency (IEA) announced that global energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) stalled in 2014: the 32.3 gigatonnes emitted was the same as in 2013. This was the fourth time in 40 years that emissions failed to rise, but the previous three (most recently in 2009) were at times of global economic downturn. The global economy grew by 3% in 2014. Emissions appear to be decoupling from economic growth. This trend, according to a Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency report, first appeared in 2012, when emissions rose by about half the rate of global economic growth. According to the IEA, the data ‘suggest that efforts to mitigate climate change may be having a more pronounced effect on emissions than had previously been thought’.

The agency attributes this halt in growth to changing patterns of both production and consumption in China and the OECD countries, including an accelerating shift towards renewable energy sources. According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), renewables now provide 9.1% of global electricity generation, account for nearly half of new capacity added in 2014, and represent a savings of 1.3Gt of CO2. The UNEP does not expect the recent dramatic fall in oil prices to significantly affect the trend.

All these figures are for the energy sector, and for CO2 alone. It’s difficult to get apples-to-apples comparison figures for such a recent period, but the UNEP cites a figure of 54Gt of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) for total greenhouse-gas emissions in 2012. They project emissions to rise to 59Gt of CO2e by 2020 under business as usual (which includes mitigation policies implemented through 2010), or to 52Gt of CO2e if all current national pledges for mitigation are strictly implemented.

In 2008 I wrote that ‘striking the balance between alarm and alarmism is difficult’, but ‘if we do adopt the policies necessary to control emissions and adapt to what we cannot avoid, the worst-case scenarios will not play out’. Thankfully, this appears to be happening, but perhaps not fast enough. The decoupling of emissions increases from economic growth suggests that the UNEP figures may prove to be pessimistic. But there is still an 8Gt gap between the UNEP best-case scenario and the level of 44Gt of CO2e in 2020 consistent with keeping warming below 2°C. As IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven put it, ‘the latest data on emissions are indeed encouraging, but this is no time for complacency – and certainly not the time to use this positive news as an excuse to stall further action.’

In a 2010 interview, science-fiction author Ray Bradbury described himself as ‘Janus, the two-faced god who is half Pollyanna and half Cassandra’. In popular parlance, Pollyannas look at a half-empty glass and see it as full to the brim; Cassandras see a half-full glass and see it as soon to be empty. Yet both stereotypes differ from their literary namesakes, and it is those antecedents that offer the real lessons. The Pollyanna of the eponymous 1913 novel doesn’t ignore the downside; she simply manages to find something to be positive about in every situation, no matter how dire. And the point about Cassandra in Greek mythology is not that she was making unwarranted predictions of doom and gloom, but that nobody believed her even though she was right. With regard to climate change, we should be like Pollyanna, but not Pollyannish, lest we fail to act in time. And we should continue to consider the apocalyptic consequences of global warming even as we try to avert them. If we are lucky, we won’t meet the same fate as Cassandra.

Jeffrey Mazo is Consulting Senior Fellow for Environmental Security and Science Policy at the IISS, and a Contributing Editor to Survival.

Jeffrey Mazo: Pollyanna or Cassandra?

Those who advocate strong action to mitigate global warming are sometimes accused of alarmism and hyperbole, or of writing ‘climate porn’ in describing the potentially dire consequences of climate change. In a Survival Closing Argument back in 2008, ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’, I argued that such apocalyptic rhetoric is not excessive – the risks really are as bad as they are made out to be.

Or maybe not. In that essay I also noted I had a reasonable hope of being proved wrong. Visions of catastrophic climate change are based on worst cases, and predicated on business as usual – in other words, on the assumption that we would do nothing to fix the problem, let alone start acting in time. But even in 2008 this wasn’t the case. That year marked the start of the first commitment period for national emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol and of the UK’s first five-year carbon budget under its landmark Climate Change Act. Energy-efficiency regulations, moreover, which have emissions consequences, had been in place in many parts of the world for decades.

Such efforts were modest, weakly enforced and appeared ineffective in toto, as global emissions continued to follow closely the business-as-usual forecasts. But the dynamics and assumptions of the models used for the projections did not match what was happening in the real world, and the close fit between the curves of projected and actual emissions was to some degree illusory and coincidental.

Last month the International Energy Agency (IEA) announced that global energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) stalled in 2014: the 32.3 gigatonnes emitted was the same as in 2013. This was the fourth time in 40 years that emissions failed to rise, but the previous three (most recently in 2009) were at times of global economic downturn. The global economy grew by 3% in 2014. Emissions appear to be decoupling from economic growth. This trend, according to a Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency report, first appeared in 2012, when emissions rose by about half the rate of global economic growth. According to the IEA, the data ‘suggest that efforts to mitigate climate change may be having a more pronounced effect on emissions than had previously been thought’.

The agency attributes this halt in growth to changing patterns of both production and consumption in China and the OECD countries, including an accelerating shift towards renewable energy sources. According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), renewables now provide 9.1% of global electricity generation, account for nearly half of new capacity added in 2014, and represent a savings of 1.3Gt of CO2. The UNEP does not expect the recent dramatic fall in oil prices to significantly affect the trend.

All these figures are for the energy sector, and for CO2 alone. It’s difficult to get apples-to-apples comparison figures for such a recent period, but the UNEP cites a figure of 54Gt of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) for total greenhouse-gas emissions in 2012. They project emissions to rise to 59Gt of CO2e by 2020 under business as usual (which includes mitigation policies implemented through 2010), or to 52Gt of CO2e if all current national pledges for mitigation are strictly implemented.

In 2008 I wrote that ‘striking the balance between alarm and alarmism is difficult’, but ‘if we do adopt the policies necessary to control emissions and adapt to what we cannot avoid, the worst-case scenarios will not play out’. Thankfully, this appears to be happening, but perhaps not fast enough. The decoupling of emissions increases from economic growth suggests that the UNEP figures may prove to be pessimistic. But there is still an 8Gt gap between the UNEP best-case scenario and the level of 44Gt of CO2e in 2020 consistent with keeping warming below 2°C. As IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven put it, ‘the latest data on emissions are indeed encouraging, but this is no time for complacency – and certainly not the time to use this positive news as an excuse to stall further action.’

In a 2010 interview, science-fiction author Ray Bradbury described himself as ‘Janus, the two-faced god who is half Pollyanna and half Cassandra’. In popular parlance, Pollyannas look at a half-empty glass and see it as full to the brim; Cassandras see a half-full glass and see it as soon to be empty. Yet both stereotypes differ from their literary namesakes, and it is those antecedents that offer the real lessons. The Pollyanna of the eponymous 1913 novel doesn’t ignore the downside; she simply manages to find something to be positive about in every situation, no matter how dire. And the point about Cassandra in Greek mythology is not that she was making unwarranted predictions of doom and gloom, but that nobody believed her even though she was right. With regard to climate change, we should be like Pollyanna, but not Pollyannish, lest we fail to act in time. And we should continue to consider the apocalyptic consequences of global warming even as we try to avert them. If we are lucky, we won’t meet the same fate as Cassandra.

Jeffrey Mazo is Consulting Senior Fellow for Environmental Security and Science Policy at the IISS, and a Contributing Editor to Survival.

Steven Pifer: NATO’s deterrence challenge is conventional, not nuclear

[Ed. note: This is an extract from a forum on NATO and Russia in the April–May 2015 issue of Survival. The complete forum, featuring additional contributions by Egon Bahr and Götz Neuneck, Lukasz Kulesa and Mikhail Troitskiy, along with a reply from Matthew Kroenig, can be found here.]

In the February–March 2015 issue of Survival, Matthew Kroenig argues that NATO faces a resurgent Russia that could threaten Alliance members, and offers sensible steps for NATO to boost its conventional deterrent and defence capabilities. His suggestions for changes to NATO’s nuclear force posture, however, have less merit.

Russia’s use of its military to seize Crimea, fuel Ukrainian separatism and invade Donbas broke the cardinal rule of the European security order: states should not use military force to take territory from neighbours. For nearly 25 years after the end of the Cold War, NATO regarded Russia as posing no threat to its territory. As Kroenig correctly argues, that must change.

It would be prudent for NATO to assume that Moscow might apply elsewhere the hybrid-warfare tactics it has demonstrated in Ukraine. The Kremlin has asserted a right to ‘protect’ ethnic Russians, regardless of their location or citizenship – or whether they wish to be protected – and Russian President Vladimir Putin has made clear his deep personal animosity toward NATO. In NATO member states Estonia and Latvia, ethnic Russians comprise about 25% of the population.

Kroenig makes useful suggestions for improving NATO’s conventional force posture. Russia’s hybrid warfare employs a mixture of local fighters, Russian soldiers without insignia (whom Ukrainians referred to as ‘little green men’) and, sometimes, regular Russian army units – backed by other forms of non-kinetic combat such as cyber and information warfare. Russia used this mixture in Ukraine to obscure and deny involvement by its military, no matter how damning the evidence of its participation in the conflict.

NATO needs to think through how it will deal with such tactics. If 100 little green men seize a government building in Estonia and NATO spends weeks debating whether that is or is not an Article V contingency, Putin will have won big.

NATO cannot make a blanket decision in advance about a specific Article V case. It can, however, define a general response strategy and thresholds that would lead to NATO action against irregular warfare on an ally’s territory. The Alliance should exercise hybrid-warfare contingencies in states such as the Baltics, deploying special forces and other capabilities to reinforce local security units. The simple fact of such exercises may help dissuade Moscow from believing it could successfully execute hybrid-warfare tactics.

NATO also must follow up on its decisions to develop a rapid-reaction force capable of deploying to any location within NATO in 48 hours, and to deploy headquarters elements in the Baltic states, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. In parallel, the Alliance should place infrastructure in the region to facilitate the reception of reinforcing units.

NATO allies should, as Kroenig advocates, extend and expand the forward presence of Allied military units in Central Europe. While there is no Alliance consensus at this point to change its 1997 policy of no ‘permanent stationing of substantial combat forces’ on the territory of new members, much more can be done within the confines of that policy.

The US Army has, since last April, deployed four companies, one each in the three Baltic states and Poland, for what the Pentagon terms a ‘persistent’ deployment. Let persistent become the new permanent. Other NATO members should make persistent deployments alongside the US companies, as a signal of commitment to forward defence. The US Army should proceed with its plan to deploy a heavy brigade’s worth of M1 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles in Poland, and the Alliance should continue an increased schedule of ground-force exercises in the Baltic and Central European region.

NATO conventional forces remain superior to Russian forces in quantity and quality. With time in a building crisis, NATO could deploy its response force and other units to the Baltics. That reinforcement capability should be regularly exercised.

A major Russian conventional assault, conducted on short notice, however, probably would overwhelm forward defences. NATO forces would fight a holding action, allowing the Alliance to move additional forces into the area for what would likely be a costly but still winnable conventional conflict. The stronger the Alliance’s ability to defend against and resist an initial assault, the less costly and quicker the fight would be.

Finally, individual NATO members need to increase their defence spending. That would maintain NATO’s edge in view of substantial Russian efforts toward modernisation.

While Kroenig deserves high marks for his conventional-force recommendations, his suggestions regarding NATO’s nuclear posture should be viewed with scepticism.

He is correct that Russia has a significant advantage in tactical – also referred to as non-strategic or sub-strategic – nuclear weapons in the European area. Russia’s military doctrine envisages use of nuclear weapons in the event of the use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against Russia or its allies, or when conventional forces are used and the ‘very existence’ of the Russian state is at stake. Moscow might even envisage resorting to nuclear weapons in the (most unlikely) case that NATO forces moved into Ukraine and attacked Russian forces there.

It is less plausible that Russia, having launched a conventional attack and seized NATO territory in the Baltic region, would resort to nuclear weapons to defend against an Alliance counter-attack aimed at driving Russian forces out of NATO territory. The Kremlin would well understand that such use would raise the prospect of NATO use of nuclear weapons against Russian territory.

The US nuclear arsenal in Europe is sufficient for this purpose. NATO has no need to match the Russian arsenal in size or diversity. No ally or NATO commander wishes to fight a tactical nuclear war in Europe. The purpose of the US arsenal is political: to assure allies of the US commitment to their defence and, if used, to warn Russia that the situation verges on escalating out of control, to the strategic nuclear level.

As Kroenig notes, the Department of Defense has said that it is considering military countermeasures in response to Russia’s testing of a ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The prospect that the United States might revive the Pershing II ballistic missile, or develop a Pershing III, would certainly get the attention of the ministry of defence in Moscow.

However, Kroenig glosses over how difficult deploying such a missile in Europe would prove. I worked at the State Department’s NATO desk on implementation of the NATO ‘double-track’ decision in the early 1980s. NATO succeeded in deploying Pershing IIs and ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe, which triggered a change in the Soviet negotiating approach that led to the INF Treaty. But it was a very close thing. At several points, the deployment decision came close to unravelling, which would have inflicted a hugely damaging – if not fatal – blow to the Alliance. No one who went through that experience would be eager to try again.

That, moreover, occurred when NATO faced the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, which held a significant quantitative advantage in conventional forces, in terms of both men and weaponry. Given that NATO today is larger, has conventional-force advantages, and faces Russia, not the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, it is difficult to see a realistic prospect for deploying additional US nuclear weapons in Europe, even if one thought it was a good idea.

Kroenig’s proposal to locate dual-capable aircraft and nuclear weapons in Poland seems particularly problematic. Firstly, basing dual-capable aircraft and nuclear weapons in Poland would make them much more vulnerable to a Russian pre-emptive strike. For instance, Russian Iskander ballistic missiles, which have an estimated range of 400–500 kilometres and a flight time measured in minutes, have reportedly been deployed to Kaliningrad. From there, the Iskanders can cover two-thirds of Poland’s territory. It makes little military sense to place dual-capable aircraft and nuclear bombs at risk when they can reach targets, including in Russia, from their current bases with refuelling – something at which US and NATO pilots are proficient.

Secondly, a proposal to base nuclear weapons in Poland would encounter significant opposition within NATO. While some allies have questioned whether NATO should adhere to its policy of no permanent stationing of substantial combat forces in new members, no ally has challenged the parallel three nuclear no’s: ‘no intention, no plan and no reason’ to place nuclear weapons on the territory of new members. In response to congressional suggestions of forward-deploying nuclear weapons on the territory of new members, the Dutch government has already publicly voiced its opposition. It makes little political sense to respond to a more aggressive Russia with a proposal that would provoke a major rift in the Alliance.

Thirdly, placing nuclear weapons on Russia’s doorstep would be a hugely provocative act. Many allies would regard it as borderline reckless. Moscow would view it as the equivalent of the 1962 Soviet effort to place nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles away from the shores of Florida. Proceeding with a plan that would divide NATO and infuriate the Russians does not make good political sense.

NATO faces a Russian security challenge that it had hoped had ended with the conclusion of the Cold War. The Alliance’s security holiday is over. NATO needs to take prudent steps to bolster its deterrent and defence capabilities, particularly in the Central European and Baltic region. Those steps, however, should focus on enhancing the Alliance’s conventional forces, not its nuclear capabilities.

Steven Pifer directs the Brookings Institution Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Iran nuclear framework is a win for all sides

The framework for an Iran nuclear deal that negotiators reached on 2 April is a win for all involved, not just for the eight parties involved, but for the region and the world as a whole. If the details can be fleshed out by the 30 June deadline and opponents in Washington and Tehran do not derail diplomacy, the resulting agreement will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons for at least the next decade and set in place extensive verification arrangements that will extend far longer.

The framework goes well beyond what I thought would be possible at this stage. Issues that have prevented negotiators from meeting the end of March deadline appear to have been overcome. In particular, these concerned allowable research and development of advanced centrifuges and the timing and extent to which UN sanctions will be lifted. Both sides made significant compromises. 

Although the joint statement made on behalf of the parties by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was largely bereft of specifics, a four-page ‘parameters’ fact sheet released by the State Department is surprisingly detailed. Let us hope that Iran’s own internal fact sheet is not contradictory.

One worrisome aspect involves the sunset provisions. In a press conference after the framework was announced, Zarif emphasised that R&D on five new centrifuge models will continue. These models may not be used to produce enriched uranium for at least ten years but once the limits are lifted, Iran will be able to quickly ramp up production of enriched uranium. The theoretical break-out period for a prospective dash to producing a weapon’s worth of highly enriched uranium would then drop to below one year. The limit on the enrichment level will also be removed after 15 or more years, further reducing the break-out period.

On the other hand, verification measures under the Additional Protocol will last in perpetuity. The framework also provides for monitoring that that goes beyond the Additional Protocol, to cover access to the supply chain for Iran’s nuclear programme and surveillance for 20 years of centrifuge production and storage facilities. It would be very difficult for Iran to produce nuclear weapons under such conditions. 

No verification regime can be watertight, of course. But Iran's leaders could have no confidence they would keep weapons production secret. Their two once secret enrichment facilities -- Natanz and Fordow -- were already outed years before they became operational. Now those whose business it is to detect clandestine nuclear work will have even more ways to watch Iran. 

The verification measures do not go as far as I would have wished. Iran will be obliged to grant the IAEA access anywhere in the country to investigate allegations of covert facilities for uranium conversion and enrichment or centrifuge production. But such access apparently will not extend to investigation of sites where suspicions arise about nuclear weapons development work. This means the IAEA will not have the right to visit the Parchin military complex, for example, if allegations resurface about experiments relating to nuclear explosions.

The framework is unclear as to how the IAEA will resolve questions about past allegations of weaponisation work. To do so, the agency must have access to sites and individuals connected to what is diplomatically termed nuclear activity of a ‘possible military dimension’ (PMD). Achieving such access should still be possible in the three months' time for hammering out the details of an agreement, but all the ‘parameters’ say about this so far is that Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s PMD concerns.

On the plus side, the PMD concerns will have to be addressed before UN sanctions on Iran will be lifted. This conditionality is a key issue over which Western demands prevailed. Iran failed to achieve its goal of immediate UN sanctions lift.

Preserving UN sanctions until the IAEA is satisfied is important because once UN restrictions are removed, it’s very unlikely that they would ever come back. Russia adamantly objected to 'snapback' provisions to automatically re-apply UN sanctions if Iran violates a deal. 

Some critics object to the framework because of the absence of agreed enforcement measures. Former chief UN inspector for Iraq Charles Duelfer goes so far as to claim that enforcement will thus be dependent on future Russian willingness to accept UN action. Such criticism overlooks the power that nations possess to take unilateral enforcement action. The Iraq case is a good example. Whether the power was wisely applied is a different matter, but it leaves no doubt about the ability of the United States, United Kingdom and other concerned states to take matters into their own hands when nations violate non-proliferation rules. Obama made clear that US sanctions will be reimposed in the event of Iranian noncompliance.  Needless to say, military options also remain on the table.

In working on the Iran nuclear issue for nearly two decades, I often wondered whether the crisis could ever end peacefully. It’s not over yet, of course. We can't call it a 'good deal' because there is no deal until devilish details have been agreed. But I am now cautiously optimistic than the issue is on a path to peaceful resolution.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Let’s not judge an Iranian nuclear deal before we see it

Despite the presence of ministers from  the seven states involved, it’s no surprise that the Iran nuclear talks did not reach an agreement over the weekend. Facing severe pressure from domestic sceptics, the Iranian and American negotiators in particular have to show that they fought hard until the very end.

The ‘end’ in this situation is not well defined. The 31 March deadline for reaching an understanding was self-imposed and can be self-postponed. The real deadline is probably 14 April, when the US Congress returns from Easter break and a vote is scheduled on new sanctions legislation. To keep senators from his own party from voting for measures that could scuttle diplomacy, Obama has to be able to show tangible results by then.

The absence of an agreement has not prevented critics from lambasting what they presume it would entail. They ought to wait. One can argue whether or not a one-year break-out period is sufficient (more on that below), but it is not possible to judge whether a deal meets that criterion without knowing all of the variables involved in the break-out equation. These variables include the number and efficiency of centrifuges, the form and amount of low-enriched uranium (LEU) available, the configuration of the centrifuges, and the ease with which new centrifuges could be added. News on Sunday evening that Iran does not want to ship stockpiled LEU to Russia after all may or may not be fatal to the one-year break-out timeline depending on how the other variables shake out. There are several ways to skin this cat.

In Washington last week, when I quietly posed my own questions to Administration officials about verification conditions, I was advised not to draw conclusions until the details were decided.

As an example, I believe that rather than an arbitrary deadline of 10 to 15 years for the limits on Iran’s enrichment programme, the limits should not come off until doubts about the peaceful nature of the programme have been resolved. I do not know how this issue will be handled, but I am told that Iran will not be allowed to go scot-free if such doubts remain.

Two judgments by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be particularly important in this regard. Firstly, allegations about Iranian nuclear activities of a possible military dimension (PMD) must be addressed. As IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano recently noted, Iran is delinquent in providing satisfactory answers to IAEA questions. Iran is holding off satisfying the IAEA until a diplomatic deal is reached with the E3+3. A deal will have to include allowing inspectors access to suspect sites and individuals.

The IAEA needs to be able to visit sites such as Parchin, where nuclear-related experiments were alleged to have taken place, and to interview officials such as Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officer and physics professor who allegedly was at the heart of suspect weapons-development work. I doubt that Iran will ever confess to weapons work that violated the fatwa against nuclear weapons that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued in 2005. But at least the IAEA should have its concerns satisfied.

A related IAEA decision point regards its ability under the Additional Protocol to draw a ‘Board conclusion’ that a state's nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful. The limits and sanctions on Iran’s programme should not be removed until the IAEA is able to draw this conclusion.

Break-out period

To get back to the point about whether a one-year break-out period is sufficient, David Albright, who is often regarded as the doyen of nuclear analysts, argued last year for a minimum six-month period. I judge that 12 months is actually twice as long as necessary. The IAEA is confident that it can detect diversion of nuclear materials or other break-out indicators very quickly, given its daily access to the Natanz facility and the monitoring techniques employed. Confirmation of the indicators would then take several weeks.

Former IAEA Safeguards Head Olli Heinonen points out that analysis of environmental samples can take two months, but this process can be fast-tracked if there are reasons to suspect Iranian cheating. Diplomatic activity to try to resolve the issue peacefully can take as long as parties want. If break-out activity is confirmed, the diplomatic route can also be fast-tracked. If military action is required to stop the activity, precision bombing can take place within days.

Heinonen and former CIA director Michael Hayden recently teamed up with Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Ray Takeyh to argue that one year may not be enough to detect and reverse violations of a nuclear agreement with Iran. Because their analysis starts with a presumption that the United States would be the first to detect a break-out, indicators of which would then be shared with the IAEA, they appear to be concerned mostly about Iranian sneak-out prospects. They are right to focus on clandestine activity, which is the more likely way that Iran might seek to build a bomb, but break-out calculations are not relevant to the sneak-out option. More important, rather, is the ability of the IAEA and intelligence agencies to keep an eye out for unreported activity. If such activity is detected, my contacts in the US government assure me that it would reach the president’s desk very quickly. The laborious bureaucratic process that Hayden et al describe before recommendations are put to the White House is not the way it would work in practice.  

In any case, the key issue now is to persuade Iran to accept limits and verification measures that would detect and therefore deter break-out. If a deal is reached, let’s judge whether it meets this test.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Jeffrey Mazo: Infinite diversity in infinite combination

Most people will be familiar, by sight if not by name, with the Mandelbrot set, a mathematical construct discovered by Benoît Mandelbrot in 1980. It is the epitome of fractal geometry and the face of chaos theory. Arising from a simple mathematical function and some rules for presentation, its visual representations are phantasmagorical and psychedelic, recursive and infinitely complex, with new details, including tiny shapes similar to the original, constantly emerging at progressively higher magnifications.

Sometimes I feel like my own research is similarly fractal: drilling down into what appear to be minor elements of the big picture reveals equally complex subjects whose own detail in turn masks yet further complexity. In my 2010 Adelphi book on the implications of climate change for global security and international relations, I focused on food, water and energy security and their effects on state stability and conflict. I discussed the opening of the Arctic only in passing. In my 2013 Adelphi Book (co-written with Christian Le Mière) on the opening of the Arctic, we discussed commercial and industrial opportunities, military and constabulary operations, geopolitics and governance. We mentioned the indigenous peoples of the region only in passing. Yet there is scope for several books on this topic alone.

Climate change, market dynamics and technological advances are shaping an economic agenda for the Arctic that will drive geopolitical and military trends. An important aspect of economic development in the region that is often overlooked or underemphasised is the position of the Arctic Peoples, who have histories, identities, lifestyles and languages that are separate from those of the Westphalian states in which they live. There is a diversity of views between and among the Arctic Peoples about development, and the political, social and economic issues vary between different parts of the Arctic. These viewpoints and issues are no less diverse than those found in political controversies within and between the dominant cultures and nation-states themselves. This complexity is not always well represented in discussions of Arctic affairs beyond the region.

As one effort to remedy this, last week the IISS convened at Arundel House a roundtable intended to bring a more complex understanding of Arctic Peoples’ viewpoints on Arctic economic development to a wider policy audience, and offer space for Arctic and industry representatives to engage on questions important to the socio-economic future of the region. Among the speakers were Athabaskans, Inuit and Sami from Alaska, Canada, Norway and Sweden, representing indigenous peoples’ civil-society, commercial and political organisations. Other speakers included senior corporate officials from the fishing, engineering and oil and gas industries. Workshop participants included London-based diplomats from most of the Arctic nations, UK diplomats and MPs, several members of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Arctic, academics, analysts and industry leaders. The workshop centred around four overlapping and interconnected themes: economic growth, environmental stewardship, respecting the Arctic way of life and interaction and engagement between Industry and Arctic Peoples.

We were aware going into the workshop that it would be impossible, with only 50 people, to represent the full geographical, cultural, ethnic and political diversity of the Arctic population, or the full range and scale of industries operating in the region. Nevertheless, the discussions revealed a multifaceted and highly complex set of views. There is no Arctic People’s perspective or policy, any more than there is a single viewpoint across commercial sectors, within individual sectors, or even among employees of a single company. One sometimes hears that there is more than one Arctic – North American vs Eurasian, or North American, European and Russian, or eight different national Arctics, and so on. In fact there is a near-infinite regress of ‘Arctics’ as you move from the international to the national to the sub-national to the local level.

The day before the event, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that this winter saw the lowest maximum extent for Arctic sea ice on record, starkly illustrating the continued warming of the region. Workshop participants expressed a range of views about Arctic climate change: in some cases, it might be beneficial, allowing better access to resources; in other cases it would be quite a serious problem. Some Arctic residents noted that their societies have always had to cope with a changing climate. Although there was no consensus, the overall sense was that warming threatened Arctic ways of life both directly and indirectly, but that traditional mechanism and the right corporate and government policies could go a long way to avoiding the worst outcomes.

The ‘bear in the room’, as I put it in my closing remarks, was Russia. Not for lack of trying, there were no members or representatives of the indigenous population of the Russian Arctic, or from Russian Arctic industries, even though Russia has more Arctic territory than any other country, nearly half the total population of the Arctic, and a substantial portion of the indigenous population. The relationship between Russian government and industry has always been problematic, but has become increasingly so in recent years. However, one speaker pointed out that it was hypocritical in some respects for Westerners to demonise Russia or China (China has no Arctic territory, but does include within its borders some indigenous peoples with lifestyles similar to those of some Arctic groups) with regard to their treatment of indigenous groups.

It’s no more than coincidence, but the Mandelbrot set has two Arctic or sub-Arctic resonances beyond its usefulness as a metaphor for the complexity underlying the big picture, in the Arctic and elsewhere. Fractal geometry has been an important tool in oil and gas exploration since the 1980s, based on Mandelbrot’s work. And one of Mandelbrot’s first publications on fractal geometry, ‘How Long is the Coast of Britain?’ (1967), discussed the ‘coastline paradox’: the length of any coastline, with its bays and headlands on many scales, depends on the size of the ruler: the shorter the units used, the easier it is to measure the lumps and bumps, and the longer the final result, up to infinity. This problem was a key component of a long-running dispute between the United States and Canada over the land border between the Alaskan panhandle and British Columbia in the nineteenth century, stemming from a clause in a UK–Russia treaty from 1821, which said the border ‘shall be formed by a line parallel to the winding of the coast’. Since that particular coast is highly indented with fjords and bays, each country’s claim for the border depended on the size of the ruler they used.

Jeffrey Mazo is Consulting Senior Fellow for Environmental Security and Science Policy at the IISS, and a Contributing Editor to Survival.

Erik Jones: The Dollar, the Euro, and the Currencies in Between

Two of the most important macroeconomic stories today are dollar strength and euro weakness. The dollar strength story is important because it threatens to sap momentum from the US economic recovery and to give pause to monetary-policy makers on the federal open-markets committee of the US Federal Reserve as they consider when to start raising interest rates. The euro weakness story is important for the opposite reason, because it promises to breathe life into the euro area economies even as it lowers the pressure on the governing council of the European Central Bank. My point in this note is not to deny the significance of these reflected narratives, although I do think they warrant qualification; rather, I want to focus attention on the currencies (and economies) caught in between.

Let’s start with the qualifications on the headline news. The dollar is not so strong and the US economy is not so open that this sharp and decisive movement in the euro–dollar exchange rate is going to have a dramatic impact. What is more likely is that the strengthening of the dollar will chip away at the margins. New US export industries with a particular focus on European markets (or competing with European counterparts) will suffer; currency traders and portfolio investors looking to take advantage of relatively low European borrowing costs and relatively plentiful US investment opportunities will benefit.

A similar point applies to the euro area. There will be a boon for those who export to US markets but not for those who purchase commodities priced in dollars, and any funds invested abroad need to be called home before there is an offsetting adjustment in relative currency values. It may be attractive to carry investment out of a low-cost borrowing environment into one that offers higher yields, but only if the principal is not eaten away by a snap-back in exchange rates.

Finally, we might look at the North Atlantic as a single economy. As is always the case, there are two sides to every trade and hence a winner for every loser. Individuals will redistribute income but the differences will wash out in the aggregate and the transatlantic economy will emerge much the same as it was before the change in relative values. Moreover, the redistribution takes place within countries as well as between them. There is a consumer for every exporter and a saver for every investor. That is why economists refer to this as ‘beggaring thy neighbour’ or a ‘zero-sum game’.

The same is not true for the third-country spectators who use neither dollars nor euros as a home currency. The game for them is not zero- but negative-sum; on aggregate, they lose. To understand why, you have to think about exchanges rates as a three-way relationship. What matters is not so much what happens to the euro and the dollar, but rather how the third-country currency moves between them – coupled with any uncertainty surrounding that movement.

Consider the pound sterling after New Labour chose not to enter the euro in the late 1990s. The euro traded at $1.17 with the launch of the single currency in January 1999 and then collapsed to $0.83 in October 2000. In percentage terms, that movement is greater than what has happened in the euro–dollar exchange rate since the start of 2014. The dollar appreciated by 35% between the launch of the euro and its maximum strength in October 2000; by contrast, it has only appreciated 25% between the first day of trading in January 2014 and 18 March of this year. The impact on the pound sterling of that initial rise was dramatic. The pound rose by 20% against the euro and fell by 15% against the dollar. British exporters struggled to adapt to the sudden change in their relative competiveness in their two most important export markets.

Then, after just 18 months of relative stability, the euro launched upward against the dollar. The pace was slower, but the direction was consistent. By July 2008 the euro peaked at $1.60. Again, the pound split the difference, rising by 34% against the dollar and falling by 31% against the euro. The impact on British exporters was significant. UK manufacturing employment declined from just under 4 million in 1999 to just over 2.7m in 2007; UK world export market shares fell from 4.8% of world exports to 2.9% of world exports over the same period.

The question now is what will happen with China. Even before the start of the economic and financial crisis, Chinese exporters sought to wean themselves from their dependence upon access to US markets – both because of the dangers associated with China–US macroeconomic imbalances and because of political pressure from a US Congress that focuses narrowly on movements in the dollar–yuan/renminbi exchange rate. As a result, Europe has grown in importance both as a market and as a focus for Chinese outward investment. Moreover, the relative strength of the euro against the dollar facilitated this pattern of diversification. Chinese authorities could allow the yuan/renminbi to appreciate against the dollar while at the same time gaining market share in the euro area.

Now this diversification strategy is in jeopardy. China must allow the yuan/renminbi to follow the euro in its decline against the dollar if it is to hold onto its newly gained market position in Europe, and yet it cannot do so completely without incurring the wrath of the US Congress. Charting a middle ground will please no one. Congress will still note the decline of the yuan/renminbi against the dollar and Chinese exporters will still lose price competitiveness in Europe. Moreover, no one knows how long or how far these trends will extend, which makes it hard (and expensive) to hedge against adverse effects.

These illustrations focus on global economic actors. The UK declared itself to be a leading economy in the early 2000s; China shows no wont of self-confidence today. Nevertheless, both are vulnerable to sudden large movements in the euro–dollar relationship. The situation for smaller and weaker economies is worse because of the exposure of firms and households to debts that are denominated in dollars. The governments of these countries must choose between accessing European markets and paying back private-sector liabilities. Then there are the countries like Switzerland and Denmark, which I talked about in an earlier posting. The governments in both countries are struggling to navigate the tidal waves of currency speculation.

The more third countries are hurt by large and sudden movements in the euro–dollar exchange rate, the more that pain will drag on the economic performance of Europe and the United States. The volatility in the euro–dollar exchange rate is damaging for the world economy as a whole.

This blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’ personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College in Oxford, United Kingdom.

Erik Jones: Brexit and Grexit, Process and Event

Two of the great risks facing the European Union (EU) economy are the exit of Greece from the euro area and the exit – or distancing – of the United Kingdom from the EU. It is easy to think of these threats as similar, even if only because they have similarly catchy names to use in popular debate. But King's College London Professor Anand Menon reminded me in a recent conference call that they are actually very different. His point was that any British exit from the European Union – or ‘Brexit’ – would be a long, difficult and conflictive process. My argument here is that any Greek exit from the euro – or ‘Grexit’ – would centre on a short, punctuated event.

Menon’s argument is worth laying out in some detail because he has an important point to make both for British citizens and for other EU member states. The debate about a British exit started in earnest when UK Prime Minister David Cameron promised to hold an in-or-out referendum during a speech on Europe he gave on 23 January 2013. In that speech, Cameron committed to making the case in favour of Britain staying in Europe. He also admitted that Europe needed to be changed. That admission reflects the fact that many of his backbenchers dislike much of what the EU has to offer and many Conservative voters are attracted by the anti-EU message that is touted by the UK Independence Party (UKIP). The reason for offering a referendum was to lock in the support of disaffected Conservatives and wavering voters in the run-up to the May 2015 parliamentary elections.

There are three things to note about the way this is set up. Firstly, the referendum takes place only if the Conservatives win. So far the Labour Party has resisted the urge to make a similar pledge about holding a referendum during the next Parliament should it lead the government. Secondly, neither Cameron nor his speechwriters could predict what would happen if an in-or-out referendum were actually held. The polling numbers are all over the place. Depending upon how you ask the question, support for EU membership in the UK is either very low or very high. Moreover, referendum politics is a complicated business. This means that there is a real prospect that the outcome could go against the EU but a chance it could offer a surprising endorsement as well. Thirdly, and most importantly, a vote to leave the EU would not result in a sudden end to the relationship. Instead it would lead to a complicated negotiation over how the UK could change its relationship with other EU member states, how it could extract itself from its many institutional obligations, and how it would deal as an independent nation with the outside world.

Long and complex negotiations create many different kinds of uncertainty – about financial commitments, property rights, trade relations, market access and political influence. That is why a UK exit from the European Union would be such a shock to the EU economy as a whole. Firms and other market actors would have to slow down the pace of their activity until enough dust settled for them to be able to make plans for the future. The pace of deceleration would start slowly as different actors began to appreciate the implications of the referendum outcome and how they would affect specific economic interests. It would gather momentum as second- and third-order implications became more apparent. And it would drag down European economic performance so long as the conflict between the UK and its European partners continued. This is how a ‘process’ threat unfolds, and it is worth appreciating because there are ways that policymakers can improve (or worsen) the process in terms of its economic impact. Of course, this assumes they cannot find some way to avoid the process altogether.

A Greek exit from the euro area would look very little like this British case. The fundamental reason is that very few people in Greece want to leave the euro. Hence the Greek government is likely to hold onto its position within the single currency for as long as possible, using every conceivable policy instrument to prevent having to embrace the alternative of creating a new and separate Greek currency. That is why it is more useful to think of a Greek exit as an event and not a process – it will happen when the Greek government has no more instruments to help it stay in the single currency or, what is more likely, when the cost of staying finally crosses the threshold of Greek tolerance and leaving the single currency becomes the only alternative. Of course, there will be negotiations and conflicts following a Greek exit and these will drag on for an unforeseeable amount of time; there is a process involved here as well. But the shock of the exit will be more important than the process that follows in terms of its impact on European economic performance.

To see what I mean, it is useful to think of a plausible scenario. I wrote about this before in May 2012 when Greece had its last electoral crisis. It still strikes me as the biggest threat to Greek participation in the euro. This scenario pivots on the prospect that at some point the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) will not allow the Bank of Greece to extend further emergency liquidity assistance to key institutions in the Greek financial sector. That will force Greek central bankers – and, hence, the Greek government – to choose between staying the euro or saving the banks. That is a binary choice. If they choose to stay in the euro and wind up the banks, they will have to put capital controls on other financial institutions and watch as the Greek economy goes through another severe contraction. That is the route that Cyprus followed in March 2013. The Greeks might choose the alternative, which is to prop up the banks. If they do so, the Governing Council will have to define any liquidity created by the Bank of Greece as being uniquely Greek and so no longer denominated in official euro. In other words, whatever loans the Bank of Greece makes, and whatever they choose to call those loans, will no longer be part of the single currency. This event will create turmoil in the markets because it is hard to imagine the full scope of implications. Like the collapse of Lehman Brothers, it will create unknown unknowns.

Fortunately, Europe’s leaders seem to be walking back from the threat of a Greek exit. The Governing Council should decide at its meeting this week to restore the waiver on the use of Greek assets as collateral in routine euro-area refinancing operations. That means that Greek banks will have less need of emergency liquidity assistance and so Greek central bankers and politicians will be under less pressure to choose between their money and their banks. Unfortunately, however, that is not the end of the story, and three sets of factors could spark trouble. The political dynamics surrounding the latest Greek agreement are only the most obvious source of threat. The institutional politics unfolding within the ECB Governing Council are also important. Finally, we have to worry about the health of the Greek banks. A sudden deterioration of the climate in any of these three areas could rapidly bring us back to the threshold where Greek politicians have to consider whether to take actions that will result in their country’s expulsion from the euro. Let’s hope that event never comes to pass.

This blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’ personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College in Oxford, United Kingdom.

Erik Jones: The Threat to Exclude Russia from SWIFT

The second Minsk accords have succeeded in fostering a ceasefire, and yet the Russian government continues to support the armed separatist movement in eastern Ukraine, small acts of violence continue to take place and the peace is fragile. The challenge for Western policymakers is to come up with some greater incentive for Russia to embrace a lasting peace settlement. The threat of large-scale Western military assistance for the Ukrainian government is unlikely to be sufficient. Russia has the advantage of proximity and a greater stake in victory than the West. If anything, overt Western military involvement could cement support behind Putin in Russia and lead to further escalation in Ukraine.

The alternative sources of Western leverage over Russia are only slightly more attractive, and the prospects that any new sanctions will find agreement in a European Council that includes Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, France and Italy are slim. Nevertheless, there is one financial sanction that seems to be gaining traction in conversations on both sides of the Atlantic. That sanction is to exclude Russian banks from the financial-messaging service known as SWIFT – the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. British prime minister David Cameron raised this prospect last August, suggesting that excluding Russian banks from SWIFT would offer considerable leverage over the Russian government. He returned to the idea late this February.

Most people who do cross-border wire transfers know SWIFT as the code you have to include in order for your transfer to arrive at the right bank. Then again, most people do not do cross-border wire transfers. Hence for the vast majority of people – including most politicians – SWIFT is at most a blank in a transfer request form, or it is just a blank. This ignorance about SWIFT is important for its role as a financial sanction, because SWIFT is much more than just a single identifier. It is a whole communication infrastructure with its own language, codes, standards and protocols for making sure that any trade is agreed, cleared and settled. SWIFT also makes it possible to communicate where the traded property is held in deposit (physically) and whether it should be moved (physically) from one place to the next.

The important point to note here is that the emphasis for SWIFT’s activities is communication –  which is the transfer of meaning between different actors. That is why SWIFT places so much emphasis on language, codes, standards and protocols. These things must not only be precise but the meaning must also be shared. Otherwise, there is a risk of misunderstanding on one side or another of any transaction. Clearing up those misunderstandings not only involves conflict but also makes markets less efficient. It is possible to work without SWIFT. The Society only came into being in the mid-1970s and it does not have a monopoly on financial communications. But it is a painstaking and labour-intensive process either to create an alternative standard or to communicate financial transactions without one.

The argument for cutting the Russian banks out of the SWIFT network is precisely to make it difficult for them to communicate with each other and with the outside world. It goes without saying that that would have a powerful impact on the Russian economy. We know this both from first principles and because the sanction was used against the Iranian government in March 2012 with great effect. So it is easy to understand why Cameron and others who support a SWIFT exclusion for Russian banks can see this as a source of leverage. Harder to appreciate are the consequences that excluding Russian banks from SWIFT would have for Western banks, investors and governments.

Let’s start with the banks. Russia is not the only government that has banks working in Russia; foreign banks operate there as well. These banks work primarily for Russian clients and they are closely intertwined with their Russian counterparts. For a SWIFT exclusion to be effective, these foreign banks working in Russia either will have to be ring-fenced or they will have to be included in the sanctions. In any event, they will suffer greatly from the chaos that the policy will create in the Russian economy and financial system. Countries like Austria will be hit particularly hard. It is small wonder, therefore, that Austrian central bank governor Ewald Nowotny was so quick to raise concern about Cameron’s latest promotion of a SWIFT exclusion.

The impact on Western investors will evolve through the failure of Russian banks to communicate routine financial transactions, both of their own and on behalf of their clients. For example, every Russian bond has a coupon and most Russian equities have dividend payments. These are typically small transactions, but they require a lot of effort to communicate. When that effort increases due to the SWIFT exclusion, the banks will likely fail to meet their legal obligations to communicate these transactions in a timely manner. The result will be widespread technical defaults, which may or may not count as ‘credit events’ and so may or may not trigger credit default payments. The challenge is to anticipate which non-Russian investors or financial firms will be most affected by these first- and second-order losses.

Then there is the impact on governments. In broad policy terms, excluding Russian banks from the SWIFT network will violate the neutrality of the communications standard and so will encourage both the Russian government and governments in other countries to invest in any alternative network to communicate financial transactions. This is what the Russian government has been saying since last summer and it is an argument that Chinese authorities have made as well. The existence of rival communications networks will create inefficiencies. SWIFT is closer to a public good or utility than a pure business-to-business service. By encouraging the development of rivals, Western governments will inadvertently undermine the utility of SWIFT as a global standard.

More narrowly, SWIFT offers an important window on the financial world. This argument is necessarily subtle. The SWIFT standard is heavily encrypted and the institution itself has a strong internal culture of confidentiality. The internal contents of the information packets communicated on behalf of clients cannot be read by the network managers. Nevertheless, some of the metadata associated with the transaction flow across the SWIFT network can be used by intelligence agencies like the NSA to keep an eye on money laundering and terrorist finances. The more Western governments encourage the creation of parallel networks, the more likely it will be that illicit financial transactions will migrate to whichever standard makes it easiest to escape supervision.

These lines of argument all suggest that the blowback from a sanction that excludes Russian banks from using SWIFT could be considerable. In other words, the idea may be gaining more traction than it deserves. It sounds like an easy way to exert leverage over the Russian government but it could end up being an even greater source of friction among European governments than the sanctions that are already implemented. Excluding Russian banks from SWIFT may also turn out to be far more trouble than it is worth. This does not mean Western governments should do nothing in the face of Russian policy toward Ukraine. It just means they need to think harder about how to gain leverage over the Russian government.

This blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’ personal website.

Erik Jones is a Contributing Editor to Survival. He is also Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he is a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College in Oxford, United Kingdom.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Netanyahu’s False Analogy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strongest argument against the impending nuclear deal concerns the prospect that Iran could get away with cheating, especially after the limits on the enrichment programme expire in about 15 years. If and when an agreement is reached, the Western nations involved in the talks will have to provide a substantive response. Since the debate is already raging, here are my two cents.

Verification of non-proliferation rules depends on the ability to detect cheating in a timely manner. Just as important, however, is the will and ability of states to enforce the rules in time. As Netanyahu noted, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is charged only with documenting violations; it doesn’t have authority to physically stop them. This power is left up to the United Nations Security Council, or to concerned states acting individually or collectively.

North Korea provides a favourite example for those who, like Netanyahu, condemn the emerging Iran nuclear deal. As he stated, inspectors knew when North Korea ‘broke to the bomb’ in late 2002, and they couldn’t do anything about it. The inspectors had to leave the Yongbyon nuclear site as directed. North Korea went on to pull out of the NPT and to resume reprocessing, separating enough plutonium for up to six weapons.

Why, then, did concerned states not take action to stop North Korea – and what lesson does this leave for the Iran case? China, as usual, protected its client state from any meaningful Security Council action. When the crisis first erupted, the United States took unilateral action by stopping all fuel-oil deliveries that had been agreed under the Joint Framework. But no forceful action was taken to enforce the agreement, which the George W. Bush administration wanted to kill off anyway.

Two factors precluded US-led military action to prevent North Korea from acquiring the additional a-bomb material. The most immediate factor was that in early 2003, the United States was gearing up to lead an invasion of Iraq and did not want the distraction of opening up another front. The more enduring factor was that the United States’ allies and partners in the region had zero appetite for military confrontation over North Korea’s nuclear programme. As in 1993–94 when the first North Korea nuclear crisis erupted, South Korea in particular was absolutely opposed to a military attack that would likely restart the Korean War and devastate its capital. Seoul lies within range of hundreds of North Korean long-range artillery systems. They hold South Korea’s economic and political centre hostage.

In the Iran case, the situation is the opposite. In the event that Iran was to cheat and spurt to nuclear weapons, US partners in the region would want the United States to act forcefully. The former king of Saudi Arabia exhorted the US to take military action to end Iran’s nuclear programme, famously calling for the United States to ‘cut off the head of the snake’. Israel’s interest in US military action to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is also well known. Iran could retaliate with conventionally armed missiles, but missile defences would deflect many of them, and the damage inflicted by any that got through would be limited. Unlike North Korea, Iran does not hold any neighbour hostage. Nobody would hold back the US from dismantling Iranian nuclear facilities by force.

Sceptics claim President Barack Obama would hold back of his own accord, out of an aversion to war. I disagree, but it is an irrelevant argument. If there is an agreement, Iran will not be breaking it to spurt for a bomb within the last two years of Obama’s tenure. Iran’s programme won’t be close enough to a weapon to hazard such a gamble. The question to be asked is whether Obama’s successors would enforce an Iran nuclear deal by taking military action. Surveying the likely field of candidates, I certainly would not want to bet against Hillary Clinton or any possible Republican president ordering air-strikes. I doubt Iran would take that bet either.

The sunset clause in an Iran nuclear deal is Israel’s most troubling concern. When centrifuge limits are eventually lifted, Iran would be free to build the industrial-sized enrichment plant it has long envisaged. It is argued that the IAEA is incapable of adequately safeguarding such large bulk facilities, in part because of the size of the material unaccounted for (MUF) that cannot be monitored.

Given improved approaches, techniques and inspection rights, the IAEA contends that it can detect diversion at enrichment plants. The issue then again becomes one of enforcement action. The breakout period will be considerably reduced if, in the future, Iran follows through with plans to install the equivalent of 120,000 first-generation centrifuges. Ideally, a nuclear deal would lead to more economic rationality on the part of Iran’s decision-makers, who would know that it is far more economical for Iran to buy enriched uranium fuel than to produce it indigenously. The ideal outcome cannot be presumed, of course. But we can probably presume a continued willingness on the part of US leaders to enforce the deal through military action. Such a deterrence posture should serve to keep Iran nuclear-weapons-free. 

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Jeffrey Mazo: Northern Exposure Redux

When I gave evidence last July to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Arctic, on the topic of defence security, the last question from the chairman was, ‘Bringing us back to the UK, what one thing, within this context, should the UK do or definitely not do? Could you give me something on the way this works?’ My colleague Christian Le Mière addressed the question of military and diplomatic engagement with the Arctic states, particularly the UK’s European neighbours, but I took a different tack. I suggested that there was one main thing the UK could do that had not come up during the session. 

The UK punches well above its weight in scientific research in the Arctic; it is by far the greatest producer outside the Arctic states of scientific research that deals with the Arctic in both the actual output and the percentage of its research budget. More involvement by the UK in the detailed work of the working groups of the Arctic Council, which are not self-funded by the council but rely on national funding, would both increase the UK’s influence in the Arctic Council and have a beneficial effect on the work.

This was a theme Christian and I had addressed more generally in our Adelphi book Arctic Opening, which had been published a few months earlier.

Of course, the committee took evidence from more than 60 people, many of them the scientists who are actually doing or overseeing this work. And some of the committee members are themselves scientists. But I was pleased to see that among the key conclusions and recommendations (there are 67 in all) in the committee’s report, released on Friday, was that the UK Government look ‘to establish a substantial and better-coordinated long-term programme of Arctic research, and ensure fully effective UK representation on Arctic Council bodies’. Others include the appointment of a UK ‘Arctic ambassador’, and working to insulate Arctic cooperation from non-Arctic disputes – for example, the Ukraine crisis.

In my last blog post (‘The Three Percent Solution’), I argued that, in supporting research and innovation for national power, governments shouldn’t try to pick winners and losers, but ‘rather provide deep support to sectors deemed to be of direct benefit for the economy, where the nation gets more bang for its buck because of historical excellence in the field, or because they support particular foreign policy or strategic goals’. For the UK, Arctic research is a perfect example. To be fair, it’s the example I had in mind when I wrote that, and I address the issue in greater detail in the February–March 2015 issue of Survival.

The appointment of a UK Arctic ambassador is also long overdue. The UK has had a special representative for climate change since 2006, and is a world leader in climate diplomacy. Of course the Arctic situation is different – the UK is not an Arctic state – but an Arctic ambassador would raise the profile of the UK in regional affairs and provide a focus for British policy. Among the other Arctic Council observer states, France, Poland, Japan and Singapore (the latter two of which only joined in 2013) all have Arctic ambassadors, although the Arctic is often only a small part of their portfolios.

The ad hoc committee’s remit was ‘to consider recent and expected changes in the Arctic and their implications for the UK and its international relations’. But for the most part the conclusions are neither parochial nor peculiarly British. In its own way, the report is an example of the way the UK’s historical experience makes it a world leader in Arctic research and a vital partner for the Arctic nations as the region becomes increasingly important.

Jeffrey Mazo is Consulting Senior Fellow for Environmental Security and Science Policy at the IISS, and a Contributing Editor to Survival.

For Jeffrey Mazo’s previous Politics and Strategy posts on the Arctic, see ‘Northern Exposure’(June 2013); ‘Hot War over Arctic Resources’ (July 2013); ‘Who Owns the North Pole?’ (December 2013) and ‘Britain as an Arctic Nation’ (November 2014).

Dana H. Allin: Mr Netanyahu Goes to Washington

A few hours after the posting of this commentary, Benjamin Netanyahu will ascend to the podium of the US House of Representatives chamber to address a joint session of Congress. I don’t know precisely what he will say, but I do know this: the Israeli Prime Minister will be interrupted, repeatedly, by rapturous applause, including standing ovations, led from the Republican side of Congress. Media commentators will carefully count the number of interruptions and ovations.

With cameras recording, Democrats in the chamber will find themselves in an awkward situation. About 60 of them have already announced that they will avoid the awkwardness by absenting themselves from the occasion. Most, however, will attend, and at least one wag has already compared their plight to deputies at a Soviet Party Congress.

Now, before any indignation in response to my repeating this (unoriginal) comparison, let me say this: the penalty for suspected insufficient loyalty during, for example, Stalin’s rule could be some combination of gulag, torture and death. The penalty for any senator or congressperson smirking, yawning or failing to applaud with sufficient vigour during Netanyahu’s speech will be: nothing. No statistically significant number of voters will decide their vote in the next election based on anyone’s body language this afternoon. The various American committees and institutions organised for the purpose of advocating for Israeli government interests in the United States have more important things to keep track of.

Still, the theatre of this occasion – including several preparatory weeks of duelling interviews, daily front page articles, and feverish gossip in both Israel and the US – has been impressive, and unpleasant. And it is important to remember why the theatrical performances have been so compelling: Netanyahu’s speech is truly unprecedented. Of course foreign leaders have been invited to speak before Congress in the past. But none have come to do so for the unambiguous purpose of rallying the opposition party to torpedo a diplomatic negotiation that the president of the United States considers vitally important to American foreign policy and security.

President Obama also considers this negotiation to be important and valuable for Israel’s security. Netanyahu clearly disagrees. My problem is this: whereas I can follow Obama’s chain of logic on the matter, Netanyahu’s truly baffles me. The administration believes that an agreement with Iran to restrict the number and performance of operating centrifuges, limit the stockpile of enriched uranium, and establish a regime for more intrusive international inspections provides the best hope of restraining the Iranian nuclear program and affords a window of time to take action, including military action, if Iran is detected making a break for nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu and his American political allies understandably prefer that there be no Iranian nuclear program whatsoever. The baffling part is how they propose that the world we live in could be transported to this alternative universe. One theory, perhaps, is that sanctions are tightened until Iran agrees to give up the entire program. But Obama had it mostly right when he told Reuters yesterday: ‘… there’s no expert on Iran or nuclear proliferation around the world that seriously thinks that Iran is going to respond to additional sanctions by eliminating its nuclear program’. (I say mostly right, because I’m sure one could find one or two experts to contradict the president on this, but I’m also pretty sure they would be wrong.)

The other theoretical form of transport would be military action. I, like many others, have written about this many times before, in the pages of Survival, and in a co-authored book published in 2010. In the book Steve Simon and I put it this way: ‘the painful irony is that [air-strikes] would probably not stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons anyway. The program might be set back by a couple of years, but Iran could redouble its efforts and very likely succeed in circumstances far more fragile than we already face.’

I’m repeating myself because the loop of argument keeps repeating. The one thing that has changed, however, is the reality of negotiations that just might be on the verge of producing an agreement that would offer some reassurance against an Iranian nuclear weapon. Reassurance is not certainty. The only thing that could provide certainty would be another American land war in the Middle East. That would indeed transport us to an alternative universe – a tragically familiar one.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.  

Mark Fitzpatrick: North Korea won’t have 100 nukes by 2020, but that’s no comfort

When analysts offer a range of possibilities about future nuclear and missile threats, the typical journalistic response is to hype the worst of the cases presented. Thus, the lead in most stories about a new report on growth in North Korea’s strategic arsenal focused on the dire prediction that by 2020 Pyongyang could have up to 100 nuclear warheads. Such a ten-fold increase over the IISS strategic dossier estimate in 2011 would put North Korea on par with current arsenal estimates for Israel, India and Pakistan.

Joel Wit, a Senior Fellow at the US–Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and co-founder of the website 38 North, did us all a service in leading an intensive study of ‘North Korea’s Nuclear Futures’, the results of which were published on 26 February. The report draws on an analysis by David Albright of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, who assessed the build-up to date in North Korea’s nuclear capability and presented three possibilities for how this might further develop. Wit’s report adds missile projections to the scenarios.

It is clear that North Korea’s strategic capabilities are dramatically expanding. As summarised in the latest IISS Military Balance, an expansion of fissile-material infrastructure, a heightened tempo of rocket launches and the appearance of new missile systems attest to the increasing security challenges faced by the North’s neighbours.

Given that North Korea has been working on warheads for 30 years, I agree with the assessment in the ‘Nuclear Futures’ report that the country is able to miniaturise plutonium-based weapons to fit onto Nodong missiles capable of reaching much of Japan. This is only a judgment, however, and one with which the South Koran Defence Ministry disagrees. Much of the press coverage of the ‘Nuclear Futures’ report misstates the certainty of the assumption. Reading that ‘Pyongyang is currently believed to have 10–16 nuclear weapons, four to eight of them based on weapons-grade uranium’, I ask: who believes?

North Korea may well have uranium-based weapons. After all, in November 2010, it displayed a modern uranium-enrichment facility housing 2,000 P-2 centrifuges, a number which appears to have recently doubled, judging from overhead imagery of the facility roof. However, no outsider knows how well the centrifuges work. It is worth recalling that Iran received the P-2 design from Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan almost 20 years ago, but never got it to operate well. Iran has done better with variations of the P-2 model, but still has not operated them beyond R&D-level numbers. Can North Korea really do better?

If North Korea and Iran have been sharing nuclear technology, as is often presumed, then it would stand to reason that their P-2 models would function similarly. But we should reserve doubt about nuclear cooperation. Among the assumptions in Albright’s medium projection for growth in North Korea’s arsenal is that the country will benefit from nuclear cooperation with Iran. If Tehran reaches a nuclear deal with the six powers, as now appears increasingly probable, it is unlikely to jeopardise the benefits of such an agreement by sharing nuclear secrets with Pyongyang.

Predictions about a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) threat against the US mainland also make me cautious. Too often in the past, dire predictions have been made about emerging missile threats from potential adversaries. In 1998, for example, the Rumsfeld Commission concluded that Iran would be able to test an ICBM within five years. More recent US intelligence estimates have posited 2015 as the year by which Iran would likely flight test an ICBM. As Greg Thielmann of the Arms Control Association recently wrote in an aptly-named blog post on ‘Iran’s overdue ICBM’, that is not likely to happen.

Notwithstanding my caution about some of the assumptions, I advocate close attention to Wit’s work. For several years now, he has argued that the US policy of ‘strategic patience’ toward North Korea is failing. His suggested approach, which he conveyed at a 2012 talk at Arundel House, is proactive engagement. Although the Obama Administration was burnt when it tried this by means of the 2011 ‘Leap Day deal’ that Pyongyang promptly scuttled by testing a space rocket, Washington has of late been gingerly trying again. In late January, US Special Representative for North Korea Policy Sung Kim offered to meet with his North Korean counterpart in Beijing. For one reason or another, including an incomprehensible quarantine policy toward travellers to prevent Ebola from reaching the country, Pyongyang demurred.

Whether or not engagement is the best answer, an underlying message in Wit’s report is that attention must be paid and action taken to counter the North Korean strategic challenge. I agree.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Jeffrey Mazo: The three percent solution

Last April, when the RAF deployed four Typhoon aircraft to Lithuania in response to events in Ukraine, a popular British satirical TV show commented: ‘Four? The entire air force? Are they mad?’

Defence cuts haven’t got that bad, but are still a cause for concern. As The Military Balance 2015 – launched last week – points out, ‘the target of an 8% real reduction in defence spending triggered by the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) has led to a 20-30% reduction in the UK’s conventional military combat capability.’ The UK is one of only four European NATO members whose defence spending is still above 2% of GDP, the NATO target, but could slip below this threshold in the next few years. Last week President Obama reportedly warned Prime Minister David Cameron privately that should this happen, it would undermine the Alliance.

But military capabilities are not the only, or even necessarily the most important, source of national power. There is a plethora of models and acronyms – DIME (diplomatic/informational/military/ economic), PMESII (political, military, economic, social, infrastructure and information systems) – and rubrics such as ‘hard power’, ‘soft power’ and ‘smart power’. The proportion of national wealth allocated to defence should not be viewed in isolation. Every interest group is fighting for its share of a limited pie, but some interests are more special than others.

Earlier this month, four British national research academies made their case for their own increased slice. In anticipation of May’s upcoming general election, the Royal Society, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Academy of Medical Sciences issued a report calling on the next government to increase public investment in research and innovation to 1% of GDP, and create an environment that encourages further private and third-sector investment to bring the overall level to 3%. The current figure is 1.73%, of which just under one-third, or 0.5%, comes from government. The OECD average is 2.4%, and the EU average is 1.9%. The UK currently lies in 26th place worldwide. Only Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Israel, Japan, Korea and Taiwan now spend more than 3% of national wealth on research. Interestingly, China only just edges out the UK on this metric.

The UK has always been a world leader in basic research and technological innovation, and continues to punch above its weight. The academies’ report, however, argues that this cannot be taken for granted. Investment is failing to keep pace with competitors; the UK faces skills shortages and a declining ability to attract the best researchers. ‘To ensure that the UK can exploit all that its excellent research and innovation base has to offer and remain an economic powerhouse, it must keep investing and building an environment in which research will prosper and ideas will flourish. Research and innovation are...essential if the UK is not to fall behind its international competitors. They also play a powerful role in ensuring the UK is an open, vibrant and enquiring society with a deep cultural base. A society worth living in.’

I would put it another way, in the context of national power and strategy. The various pillars of power rest on a common foundation of human and intellectual capital. Not to put too fine a point on it, a nation that neglects education and scientific and technical innovation will, sooner or later, see all these pillars begin to crumble.

This problem in the UK is not one of ambition but of limited means. Even in an environment of austerity, the public overwhelmingly agrees that Britain needs to develop its science and technology sector to advance international competitiveness, that the government should not cut science funding, and that the government should support basic research even if there is no immediate economic benefit. In the United States, in contrast, while there are still high levels of public support for science, a greater (and increasing) proportion of people have negative views of scientific research and science funding, and 34% see no need for government investment at all. Opinion in the US is strongly divided on party political lines. Interestingly, support for scientific and technological investment is higher among older age groups in the UK, and among younger groups in the US. The US does spend a much greater proportion of national wealth – just below 3% in total – in both private-sector and government investment, than the UK. But aside from, or perhaps in part because of, the decline in public enthusiasm, this is in serious danger from the top down. High-level policymakers’ resistance to supporting climate-change research is an extreme example, but recent statements and actions in response to the Ebola and measles outbreaks, with regard to vaccination in general, to education policy and to evolutionary biology in particular, are all symptoms of this chronic threat to the foundations of US national power.

The private sector has a tendency to tilt towards the ‘development’ part of R&D, and to direct research towards specific, practical goals. But the value of basic research can’t be determined in advance. Many highly successful businesses have realised the potential return from funding ‘blue sky’ research, either within their own organisations or through supporting academics, but this is where government support shines. Governments shouldn’t (and for the most part don’t) try to ‘pick winners and losers’, but rather provide deep support to sectors deemed to be of direct benefit for the economy, where the nation gets more bang for its buck because of historical excellence in the field, or because it supports particular foreign policy or strategic goals. And of course this sort of spending has the added benefit of supporting a knowledge and skills base among the next generation of researchers. It is a sort of cornucopia of the commons, in which government investment creates a public resource that can be exploited without being depleted. One percent of national wealth, and the opportunity cost of promoting another 2% from the private sector, seems a small price to pay.

Jeffrey Mazo is Consulting Senior Fellow for Environmental Security and Science Policy at the IISS, and a Contributing Editor to Survival.

Erik Jones: The Three Faces of Credibility

As an academic, I am interested in the power of ideas. If ideas didn’t matter, I would probably look for another job. Fortunately, the power of ideas is all around us. This is not a reference to the terrible events in Copenhagen, although I suppose it could be. That was a conference about ideas attacked by people who have a deep fear of the power of ideas to threaten them. Slavoj Žižek made that argument about the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year; his reasoning applies equally well in this more recent tragedy.

The power of ideas that I find most interesting at the moment centres on the notion of credibility. The reason this is interesting is that credibility can seem so solid at one moment only to collapse in another. I worry this could happen to the euro as a single currency if some accident were to happen and Greece were to leave the euro. This essay is a long way of making a simple point. Anyone who thinks that Greece can leave the euro without there being dramatic consequences is underestimating the power of ideas.

To see what I mean, you should think of credibility in three different ways – in terms of consistency, context and coordination. The consistency notion is the most literal and so also the most familiar. Credibility can mean that I will do what I always do no matter what I say. This is the kind of credibility that gives us reason to believe people who have a reputation for living up to their verbal commitments (credible people) and to doubt people who have a reputation for doing one thing while saying another (people who consistently lack credibility).

This kind of credibility-as-consistency is easiest to spot in its absence. Very few people are credible in the sense that they always do what they promise; if there is any consistency, it tends to be in disappointment. Russian President Vladimir Putin and the most recent Minsk agreement provide a good illustration. Putin has developed a reputation – at least in the West – for saying one thing and yet doing another. Of course this is a matter of perspective. The Russians probably view him as credibly consistent; on the other side of the conflict, however, Putin has a reputation for doing what he is going to do no matter what he says. In that sense he lacks credibility as a peacemaker, and so the bulk of the reporting on the latest Minsk agreement focuses on what signs we have that Putin is ready to break the agreement – if, indeed, he ever really signed up to it.

The air of mistrust (or incredibility) around the new Minsk agreement is palpable, and the range of options available to policymakers is getting smaller as a consequence. That is a power of credibility as an idea: it is easy to see how you can deal with a consistent partner, and hard to imagine how to work with someone you cannot trust. That is why so many critics of the Minsk agreement argue that we should start arming the government of Ukraine rather than wasting time with duplicitous negotiations. If this situation doesn’t change, and Putin doesn’t somehow emerge as a more reliable negotiating partner, then the situation in Ukraine will continue to escalate.

But the situation in Ukraine will not escalate to nuclear Armageddon. There will be terrible suffering in Ukraine, but the conflict should stop far short of global conflagration because at some point ‘cooler minds’ will take charge and ‘reason will prevail’. This is another notion of credibility. It is related not so much to a reputation for matching (or failing to match) words to deeds as to doing what is right in a particular context. Here the better illustration is not Putin and Ukraine but the euro area (or Germany) and Greece. At the moment, both sides in the debate between Greece and its creditors are making strong verbal commitments. The Greeks say they want an end to austerity and the provision of some kind of bridge financing until they can negotiate a work-out for their sovereign debt. The Germans and other creditors say that Greece must honour its commitments and accept whatever conditions are attached to official lending.

The politicians on both sides are credible, but we know that neither side is going to do what it says. So the question is how long it will take them to agree on doing what’s right in the context and how they will package it so that everyone saves face. The power of this kind of credibility is that it makes it easier for observers to filter out the noise. There is some market volatility as a result of the ongoing negotiations, but no panic. Moreover, that should remain the case so long as the belief that eventually politicians on both sides will do what is necessary continues to hold.

A third kind of credibility is found not in consistency or context but in coordination. If you can get everyone to believe in an idea and to act accordingly, then the resulting change in behaviour will take on a life of its own. Central bankers have been experimenting with this notion of credibility in their communications strategies. ‘Forward guidance’, or the verbal pre-commitment to how they will use specific policy instruments, is one illustration; European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi’s announcement of quantitative easing, or outright purchases of marketable assets like government debt by euro area central banks, is another. Here I should apologise to anyone who doesn’t enjoy reading about central banking. I will try to make this as painless as possible.

Of the two central-banking illustrations, the quantitative easing story is the easier to tell. First Draghi promised that some quantitative easing would take place and market participants began to build that future demand for marketable assets into the prices that they expected to see in the present. Interest rates (or yields) fell on government bonds as a consequence. Then Draghi announced both the size and timing of the program, and market participants began to adjust their portfolios to accommodate the ECB as a new major purchaser of Europe’s highest quality assets. Now yields are falling on lower quality ‘high yield’ assets. Moreover, the investors who bet against these movements are losing money while the investors who follow the trend stand to gain. That is the power of credibility as coordination. ECB executive board members are already pointing to the success of quantitative easing and the actual purchasing of assets by the ECB has not even started yet.

The three faces of credibility – consistency, context, coordination – are useful to distinguish but they are all interconnected insofar as credibility is a single concept. Hence credibility is highest when doing what you say makes sense given the situation and provides a clear plan of action to make the situation better. Credibility is lowest when your word is no good, what you are proposing makes no sense, and no-one in their right mind would follow you anyway. Moreover, you can swing from one extreme to the other simply by changing the way things are perceived. As I said at this outset, this is why the power of credibility as an idea is so interesting. Credibility may seem solid but it can quickly evaporate – taking all of its power to help policymakers imagine possible solutions, remain calm through tense bargaining, and organise reinforcing behaviour along with it.

This fragility can be seen in a fourth illustration, which is the notion of the euro as a single currency. The euro exists as a commitment to ‘irrevocably’ fixed exchange rates. This is a commitment that European leaders have made repeatedly. It makes sense to keep the commitment to irrevocably fixed exchange rates when you think about the consequences of swapping it out for a set of fixed-but-adjustable exchange rates like the old exchange-rate mechanism that the single currency replaced. And the commitment to irrevocably fixed exchange rates makes it possible to believe that a euro held in one country is as good as a euro held in another (and to act accordingly). When market confidence in this commitment wavered in the summer of 2012, Draghi made is pledge to do ‘whatever it takes’ to safeguard the euro and lent his own credibility to the single currency. The subsequent change in market behaviour was dramatic.

The question is whether the commitment to irrevocably fixed exchange rates would remain credible if by some accident Greece were forced to exit the euro. At that point it would be worth questioning whether the parity across countries is irrevocable, no matter what European policymakers like Draghi might insist. It would also be worth recalculating whether it makes sense for Cyprus to follow Greece rather than remain in the euro. And it would be useful to consider whether market participants should all keep pretending that they face no ‘convertibility risk’ when comparing euro-denominated assets from one country to the next or whether they might be safer changing some of their bets.

If the euro loses credibility as a single currency, this is the dynamic that we will have to face. It is not a question of balance-sheet exposure or market institutions. It is a question of the power of ideas. And as we see at the moment, that power is manifest.

This blog post first appeared on Erik Jones’ personal website.

Erik Jones is Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College in Oxford, United Kingdom.

Matthew Harries: Survival on Western strategy towards Russia

Angela Merkel and François Hollande are returning from Minsk with an agreement for a ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine. The news raises hopes of an end to this acute stage of the conflict, but of course such hopes have been raised and then dashed numerous times already. In any event, broader questions about Ukraine’s fate – and the future of European security – remain unsolved. With those questions in mind, two major articles in the latest issue of Survival examine the future of Western strategy towards Russia.

IISS chairman François Heisbourg argues that the West must now focus all its efforts on preserving the post-Cold War order in Europe, through a mixture of ‘dissuasion’, which could include a permanent NATO military presence in Poland and the Baltic states; ‘support’ to Ukraine, including lethal weaponry and massive economic aid; and a degree of ‘respect’ for Russia: ‘Ukraine, out of political and strategic prudence, would elect not to join NATO’. Heisbourg concludes that ‘the West’s contest with a revisionist Russia will be long-lasting.’

Matthew Kroenig, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, urges NATO to get itself ready for a new Cold War. This means NATO must ‘circle the wagons’ – pause Ukrainian and Georgian membership discussions; put in place a forward-stationed NATO headquarters in Eastern Europe; expand military deployments to the Baltic states; and consider the deployment of new tactical nuclear weapons to Europe, and the redeployment of existing nuclear gravity bombs to Eastern European states. Kroenig says it would be wrong to accuse NATO of starting an arms race: ‘An arms race is already under way; NATO is just sitting it out.’

Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS.

Erik Jones: Central Banking as Politics

Central bank independence used to mean that central bankers would take economic decisions without regard to the political consequences; now it appears to mean that central bankers take political decisions without regards to the economic consequences. This is a very bad development for macroeconomic policymaking because it is likely to give political momentum to those who oppose the prevailing policy framework. The result will be a crisis of legitimacy for the central-banking community and an increase in volatility and uncertainty in the world economy writ large.

Consider three illustrations. Firstly, the Swiss central bank released its peg against the euro in order to stave off the inflow of foreign capital. This move was certainly ‘independent’, but it looks more political than economic. To see why, just ask yourself whether the technical advantages for monetary policymakers are more obvious than the distribution of costs and benefits both inside and outside the country. Swiss exporters are clearly suffering and so will the tourist industry. Anyone who took out a mortgage in Swiss francs but earns income in other currencies – like euros, zloty, koruna, etc. – will clearly suffer as well. Swiss central bankers may claim they have good technical motives for floating the currency, but any such sharp division between winners and losers looks an awful lot like politics.

Another example is Denmark. There the central bank is struggling not to follow Switzerland in breaking the peg between its national currency and the euro. Danish central bankers are ever having to experiment with new measures to dissuade foreign investors from bringing their money into the country as a consequence. Indeed, they have even had to enlist the support of the Danish Treasury. Here you might think the technical advantages are more obvious than in the Swiss case. But so are the winners and losers. Not only do Danish firms benefit from a reduction in exchange rate uncertainty, but they also get to borrow at unprecedentedly low costs. Meanwhile Danish savers – including pension funds and insurance companies – are taking losses. Again, this looks like politics, and the hard peg on the euro looks like a political project. Perhaps it is time for Danish politicians to ask the voters if they want to join the single European currency. But of course they already did that in September 2000. The answer was not ‘yes’. The hard peg on the euro is the policy alternative.

The third example comes from the European Central Bank (ECB). Last Wednesday the governing council announced that assets underwritten by the Greek government would no longer be accepted as collateral for routine liquidity operations. This decision takes effect from 11 February, when the current refinancing period ends and the Greek banks will need to replenish their cash. The decision was well telegraphed in advance. ECB board members have stated repeatedly that the waiver making it possible for banks to use Greek government-backed assets as collateral depended upon the Greek government’s ability to stay in a structural adjustment program set out by Greece’s creditors and supervised by the Troika of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Commission (EC) and the ECB. Greece’s program comes up for review at the end of February and so most market participants expected that the waiver would come to an end. What they did not expect was the timing of the announcement. The ECB explained its decision to move up the date by pointing out that the new Greek government announced its intention to leave the program. That works formalistically, but it is still hard to see how moving up the decision gives the ECB any technical advantages in pursuing its monetary policy objectives. By contrast, it is easy to see how the surprise timing of the announcement could roil the markets and imposes costs on the new Greek government. This is politics, not economics.

The distinction is important. Before explaining why, I should be clear that I am a big supporter of the euro as a single currency, I am a huge admirer of the ECB and its president, and I have an unusual fascination with the exchange-rate policies of small advanced industrial economies like Switzerland and Denmark. So this is not the usual anti-euro, anti-ECB, anti-rich small country rant. My worry is that such obvious political interference by central bankers is unsustainable in terms of popular legitimacy. Not only will it chip away at any support for ‘central bank independence’ as a concept but it will also embolden (and empower) those groups who seek to reintroduce politics into monetary policymaking. Moreover, these things will happen no matter how much central bankers protest their political innocence and churn out technical or rule-based arguments to justify their actions.

In the world of politics, perceptions matter more than sophistication. Indeed, any attempt to ‘justify’ the influence of central banks in assigning winners and losers is only going to backfire by playing into the rhetoric of populists. Europe’s central bankers have turned the logic of political independence on its head and now they are openly engaged in what looks to most observers like politics. If we somehow get out of this crisis without suffering another major setback, people may be willing to overlook this perceived transgression. If there is another sharp reversal, however, the public is unlikely to be forgiving. Central bankers will become political targets and so will central bank independence. The results will not be good for future macroeconomic policymaking.

This post first appeared on Erik Jones’s personal website.

Erik Jones is Professor of European Studies and Director of European and Eurasian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford. 

Dana H. Allin: A US-Israeli Axis of Realism?

When the alarm on my iPhone goes off, I usually prop my head up with an extra pillow and use the device to look at the morning’s New York Times headlines. (Whether that is a good way to start the day is another topic.) Last week, I am pretty sure, not a single morning went by without a lead story on the Times website about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accepting an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner to deliver before a joint session of Congress a kind of rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union speech. Netanyahu will certainly use the occasion to attack the administration’s negotiating strategy with Iran. Those negotiations may very well fail, but if they succeed, that success will be on the basis of leaving Iran some kind of latent nuclear capability, an outcome that Netanyahu’s government along with US Republicans consider unacceptable. The problem is that these critics have not described a plausible alternative.

The speech is scheduled for 3 March – almost a month from now – so there will be plenty more headlines to come. The plan for the speech was hatched between Boehner and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, and then sprung without warning to the White House. It has inspired anger in the administration, a generalised head-shaking from Democrats, and even some incredulity from pro-Republican commentators at Fox News. Israelis are also divided on the speech, scheduled for two weeks before Israeli elections that look too close to call. Michael Oren, Netanyahu’s previous ambassador to Washington, is among those calling the speech a mistake that should be cancelled.

Yesterday the New Yorker magazine posted a column by the always interesting Bernard Avishai, who suggested it may be a mistake to see the Netanyahu–Boehner gambit as an affront to America’s bipartisan support for Israel.

Netanyahu’s invitation to speak before Congress has precipitated a crisis with the White House, but the clarity it offers comes as a relief. The strategic conflict is not between American and Israeli interests but rather between rival conceptions of how the two countries should exert and coördinate their respective national powers, the United States globally, and Israel regionally. Each conception has organized advocates in each country—roughly, the Likud with Republicans and Israeli center-left parties with Democrats.

Avishai in the same column quotes at length from his interview with Steven Simon, a Survival contributing editor who was my co-author on a book on the US–Israeli–Iranian triangle  and with whom I’m writing another book on the US–Israeli future.

Obama and Kerry take what Steven Simon, the former senior director for Middle East and North Africa affairs in the Obama White House, has called a classically realist approach to global affairs. “Obama was both willing to deal with Egyptian President Morsi and also refused to label his overthrow as a coup, subordinating his concerns about Egyptian domestic political arrangements to a strategic concern for regional stability,” Simon told me. Similarly, the realist move for Israel, with regard to the Palestinian territories, would be to strike a deal that reduces the risk of their being inflamed by neighboring conflicts. Obama, Kerry, and many Democrats are joined in these views not only by Labor Party and centrist leaders but also by former Mossad leaders Efraim Halevy, Meir Dagan, and Amiram Levin, and by Yuval Diskin and Yaakov Perry, former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency.

Avishai goes on to quote Simon on how ‘Obama’s realism is reflected in his management of the Iranian threat’.

‘Realism’ is a somewhat slippery concept, but it is fair to say that its American seat has shifted from right to left. In Nixon–Kissinger times, the Republican Party was the home of realism, and although early neoconservatism was in large measure an attack on Kissinger's supposed amorality in dealing with the Soviet Union, early neoconservatives such as Jeanne Kirkpatrick still offered realist arguments for aligning with right-wing dictatorships such as Argentina’s. It was Jimmy Carter who introduced human rights to US foreign-policy discourse in a big way. The Reagan administration was often ideological in its rhetoric, but realist in its policies – for example, in tacitly supporting the Saddam Hussein regime in its long war with revolutionary Iran.

One of the most interesting questions about the upcoming Republican presidential nominating contest will be the extent to which neoconservative versus traditional realist foreign-policy themes will win out. Whatever the answer, it is a pretty fair bet that Iran and Israel will be central to the debate.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.  

Samuel Charap & Jeremy Shapiro: The looming New Cold War and its consequences

The Ukraine crisis poses vexing policy challenges for Washington. President Obama has sought to strike a balance between the imperative of responding to Russian actions and the equally important need to avoid an all-out confrontation with Moscow. ‘It’s not a new Cold War,’ he said. ‘It is a very specific issue related to Russia’s unwillingness to recognize that Ukraine can chart its own path.’ The problem is that the administration’s balancing act cannot last long. As the dramatic deterioration of conditions on the ground in Ukraine in recent weeks has demonstrated, forces beyond the president’s control are pushing him toward the very New Cold War that he wants to avoid. He will eventually face a choice between that outcome, which will prove hugely dangerous and costly, or negotiating a solution to the crisis with Russia, which might hurt him politically but is far better for the country and the world. He should choose to move toward the negotiated outcome now.

Obama’s instinct to avoid the New Cold War is clearly the right one. Gratuitously seeking confrontation with Russia could lead to Armageddon after all. But more to the point, the US needs Russian cooperation on any number of other global priorities, particularly Iran, but also Syria, Middle East peace, Afghanistan and counter-terrorism. As long as Russia is willing to play ball on those issues, the US has every reason to continue to do so as well.

At the same time, the administration’s lack of interest in negotiating with Russia is also understandable. The potential for a success at the talks seems like a long shot at best, and the status quo, while unpleasant, is not hugely detrimental to US interests. Americans are not dying; the US economy is not affected; US treaty allies are safe.

The administration’s policy can be called the ‘middle way’ between these two extremes. It is defined by maintaining cooperation on key global issues while keeping up the pressure on Russia for its actions in Ukraine and supporting the new government in Kiev. It also is dependent on avoiding significant escalation on the ground in the Donbas and on the Kiev government managing to stay solvent.

The middle way seems prudent today. But it cannot last. Obama’s middle way will likely devolve into the very New Cold War that he is seeking to avoid. Politics in both Washington and Moscow and the interaction between them will make it be impossible to sustain over time in two key ways.

First, it will become politically untenable to avoid escalation in Ukraine while maintaining cooperation on global issues. For the US, this dual-track approach – condemning Russia as an aggressor one day, and seeking to work with Moscow the next – creates regular opportunities for Obama’s critics to decry him as weak and feckless. Indeed, cries of appeasement can be heard from Capitol Hill each time senior US and Russian officials meet to discuss global issues, or when the Obama administration takes steps to avoid escalation in Ukraine. In Moscow, officials are regularly criticised for having betrayed the Donbas, or for being too soft on the US by cooperating on other issues, such as arms control. And since these political dynamics play out in public and are picked up by the other side in real time, the hawks in each country tend to feed off each other, progressively raising tensions ever higher as time passes.

Second, both countries’ bureaucracies will prove incapable of resisting the urge to link their dispute in Ukraine to other aspects of bilateral interaction. The US began linking unrelated aspects of the relationship almost immediately after the annexation of Crimea in March 2014. All joint work considered non-essential – from the Bilateral Presidential Commission to most space cooperation – was suspended. But what remains of the relationship is therefore what matters the most to the US, from the Iran nuclear talks to the purchase of Russian rockets to launch US military satellites. Moscow has for the most part continued to cooperate on these issues, compartmentalising them from the Ukraine dispute. But this mutual compartmentalisation has already started to fray. In December, for example, Russia announced that it would not be attending the US-led Nuclear Security Summit. It is only a matter of time until the tsunami of tensions overwhelms the remaining islands of cooperation in the relationship.

And those tensions will rise.  As the past few weeks have demonstrated, Moscow is not content to let the conflict in Ukraine simmer on the back burner. Accepting even a rump Ukraine that is rapidly hurtling into the arms of the West and its institutions is a political non-starter in Moscow. So without a settlement that gives the Kremlin some of what it wants, we should expect that the current escalation of Russian support for the insurgency in the Donbas will not be the last. If the ongoing rebel offensive – or the next one – were to push deeper into Ukrainian territory, the political pressure to escalate US involvement through further sanctions and/or supply of lethal assistance to the Ukrainian military might prove overwhelming. Under those conditions, even if the US would like to continue to cooperate with Russia on global issues, Moscow might well balk, while further escalating its own involvement on the ground in Kiev.

But even if the conflict in eastern Ukraine were to be frozen in some form, with no bloodshed but also no settlement, the middle way cannot hold. It has already proven politically difficult for the Obama administration to continue working with Russia on key global issues. Senator John McCain has called it ‘a strategy worthy in the finest tradition of Neville Chamberlain’. It will only get harder as most of the presidential candidates—Democrat and Republican—appear set to run on a hardline toward Russia.  A similar dynamic plays out in Moscow, where nationalists, now including some fighters who have returned from the frontlines in Ukraine, often criticise Putin for ‘betraying Novorossiya’ and denounce his ‘Chekist-oligarchic regime’. Hardliners publicly call for Russia to renounce arms-control treaties and to end all cooperation with NATO.

Let’s assume that those political forces can be kept at bay for a while. The middle way would still face a key challenge: time. It is explicitly a temporary policy, in place until Putin and his regime give in to Western demands to change course in Ukraine.  As Obama said in December, ‘You'll recall that three or four months ago, everybody in Washington was convinced that President Putin was a genius … And I said at the time we don't want war with Russia but we can apply steady pressure working with our European partners, being the backbone of an international coalition to oppose Russia's violation of another country's sovereignty, and that over time, this would be a strategic mistake by Russia.’ In other words, the middle way is designed as a means to an end; it assumes that Western pressure will change Russian policy in Ukraine.

There is a debate about this assumption in Washington. But even those who agree with it do not see it as a short-term proposition; it’s a matter of many months, if not years, of squeezing Russia to produce results. The problem for the Obama administration is that the political dynamics pushing toward escalation, and the bureaucratic dynamics pushing for linkage will produce results in a matter of weeks or months at most. In other words, even in a best-case scenario, it’s just a matter of time before the New Cold War will overtake the middle way.

Eventually Obama will have to choose between the New Cold War and a negotiated solution to the crisis. Elsewhere, we have argued that such a solution would entail a new arrangement with Russia on the regional security order in Europe. Such a deal would involve difficult compromises. It would probably entail recognition of a special Russian role in its neighbourhood, and an end to NATO and EU enlargement on Russia’s borders.  But the alternative, the New Cold War, is far worse – for the United States, Russia, Europe and most of all for Ukraine.  It is already past time to begin talks with Moscow on that new deal.

Samuel Charap is Senior Fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Jeremy Shapiro is a Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. They both served on the Policy Planning Staff of the US Department of State. 

Benjamin Fishman: ISIS overplays its hand

3 February was supposed to be a good day for Jordan. King Abdullah was in Washington in part to mark the agreement on a new $1 billion annual assistance package. Aid to Jordan has long received bipartisan support – a rarity in Washington – in no small part because of the king’s frequent visits to Capitol Hill, along with his White House meetings. The updated assistance package increases economic and security assistance to Jordan by more than $300 million annually for the next three years. It is intended to offset Jordan’s persistent economic struggles, help it contend with the ongoing influx of Syrian refugees and strengthen its military capacity to contend with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) on its borders.

As much as the Hashemite kingdom benefits from its close ties with Washington, politics in Jordan demands a careful balancing between King Abdullah’s pro-Western policy inclinations and the need not to appear to be a puppet of the West (as I explored in the December 2014–January 2015 issue of Survival). Exploiting that vulnerability was no doubt the intention behind the horrific execution of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh whose plane crashed over Syria on 24 December 2014 due to mechanical issues. The sophisticated media apparatus of ISIS released the video of al-Kasasbeh’s immolation shortly after Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh signed the new assistance agreement. If the timing was not planned to the minute, ISIS certainly knew about the king’s visit to Washington this week and chose to release the video during his absence from the kingdom.

ISIS’s message seems clear: align with the enemy and Jordanian soldiers will be treated even worse than the apostate Shi’ites and Kurds fighting them in Iraq. It is a message to Jordanian Islamists to challenge the pro-Western monarchy, and to Jordan’s tribal population – the foundation of the military – that following King Abdullah will only lead Jordan to disaster.

This time, however, ISIS may have overplayed its hand. Initially, the capture of al-Kasasbeh led to some protests by the pilot’s family and tribe against the palace for not doing enough to secure the pilot’s release, and in opposition to Jordan’s participation in the war against ISIS altogether. Pictures of al-Kasasbeh in his uniform reflected this sentiment.

But when ISIS demanded a prisoner release to spare the pilot’s life, the tables suddenly turned. ISIS demanded the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, a convicted terrorist who, together with her husband, attempted to detonate a suicide vest at a five-star hotel during a wedding (part of a series of near-simultaneous hotel bombings in Amman in November 2005 that killed more than 57 people). Her husband’s vest exploded but Rashawi’s bomb failed to detonate. She escaped but was later turned in by a relative.

Even the groom – who lost several family members during the 2005 attack – supported Rashawi’s release, telling the New York Times, ‘She’s a nobody; I don’t think she’s very important … If it’s 100 percent sure to get Moaz back, we support this, even though I know if she’s released she will probably do this again.’

The Jordanian government offered to release Rishawi, but only if it received proof that Kasasbeh was still alive. Over a week passed before ISIS released the video, on 3 February, foregoing the now familiar decapitation in favor of burning Kasasbeh alive in a metal cage.

Jordanian nationalism will almost certainly peak in the immediate aftermath of Kasasbeh’s killing. The King, in a recorded message before he cut his visit to Washington short, appealed for national unity and condemned ISIS (also known as Daesh) ‘as the terrorist and cowardly Daesh organisation, this criminal, stray gang that has nothing to do with our true religion’. Other government officials and the army have vowed revenge. Rishawi and an aide to former al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a native Jordanian, were executed early on 4 February.  Both had previously been sentenced to death.

Jordanian nationalism will likely persist for the next several months, but Jordan remains vulnerable as the war with ISIS drags on. For its longer-term stability Jordan will depend on the commitment of the US-led coalition to fully defeat ISIS, as well as the ability of the new Iraqi government to be truly inclusive and rebuild the military with Sunni participation.

If Jordan’s friends really want to help ensure its future stability, they will need to find a way to ‘degrade and defeat’ ISIS’s military and ideological strengths more rapidly. For its part, Jordan can play a leading roll in coordinating a more aggressive strategy with other Muslim communities to counter the group’s messages and appeal. If anything positive is to come of Moaz al-Kasasbeh’s tragic death, he could become a symbol for those who reject a return to medieval brutality in the name of religious fundamentalism.

Benjamin Fishman is Consulting Senior Fellow for the Middle East and North Africa at the IISS.

Jeffrey Mazo: After the Fall

‘War’, the saying goes, ‘is not healthy for children and other living things’. This slogan covers both the obvious direct dangers to people from violent conflict and the indirect impacts through damage to the environment and ecosystems they live in. The latter is the focus of the Toxic Remnants of War Project (whose latest report I review in the in upcoming February-March issue of Survival), and forms one side of environmental security. But warfare is only the extreme end of a range of environmental stressors. The flip side is the degree to which environmental damage, or simply environmental change (such as global warming) from other causes, can increase the risk of conflict through socio-economic shocks. The two tendencies can create a vicious downwards spiral for security and stability.

These thoughts are prompted by a recent study of the effect of the collapse of communism on wildlife in Russia. The authors look at population trends of eight species of large mammal in Russia between 1981 and 2010, divided into three periods: the final decade of the USSR, the decade of declining GDP between 1991 and 2000, and a decade of economic recovery. Immediately after the 1991 collapse, wild boar, brown bear, moose, roe deer, red deer, reindeer and lynx populations fell, and they all continued to decline on average over the next decade, with boar and moose the worst affected. The wolf population, which had been dropping throughout the 1980s, on the other hand, grew quickly in the 1990s. After 2000, the wolf population levelled out, and the other species (except for lynx and reindeer) began to recover. The growth rate for wild boar was exceptionally high; a 50% decline in population between 1991 and 1995 was followed by a 150% increase between 1995 and 2010. At the end of the period, boar, brown bear, roe deer and wolf populations had reached new heights.

That these shifting trends were the result of the socio-economic shock and recovery seems clear. The authors rule out climate change as a factor, identify similar trends in the same species in other post-communist countries, and point out that the trends in Western Europe and North America were quite different. They suggest a number of interacting mechanisms for the collapse and recovery: growing poverty led to increased poaching; weak governance meant protection laws were not enforced (and conversely, that population-control measures for wolves fell apart); the deliberate planting of crops for wild boar to forage declined. Some 40% of farmland in European Russia was abandoned after 1991, but by the 2000s it had become young forest that supported bear and moose. The growth of the wolf population, however, put pressure on moose and deer.*

The collapse of communism and the Soviet Union had other environmental consequences. Some were positive – environmental protection regulations and enforcement in the communist states were notoriously weak. Others were negative. Heavily militarised borders and even war zones can paradoxically have a beneficial effect on wildlife, limiting detrimental human presence and economic activity. The Iron Curtain was no exception. In many places, especially Germany, the former East–West border zone has become protected parkland (oddly enough, some wildlife still appears to respect the border, even though the barriers to movement are long gone). In others, however, the removal of restrictions is allowing environmental destruction. The 3,000km2 Bialoweiza Forest along the Belarus–Poland border, the last significant remnant of the ancient forest that used to stretch from the Atlantic to the Urals, is under threat. Although the trees and wildlife suffered much damage during the First World War, it benefited from benign neglect during the Soviet era. Although much of the forest is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, less than 10% is strictly protected and the rest is subject to commercial (and sometimes illegal) logging.

War, then – whether hot or cold – can paradoxically sometimes be good, if not for children then for other living things. The benefits, however, seem small compared to the harm. And the same is true of socio-economic crises or conflicts other than war. The recent study of Russian wildlife is the largest-scale look at such interactions to date, and confirms earlier and more local research in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. But that same study notes a high degree of variation from region to region within Russia during the period of decline. With regard to environmental security, the truism masks significant nuance; every case is sui generis.

*I am unable to refrain from making the obvious joke here about ‘weapons of moose destruction’.

Jeffrey Mazo is Consulting Senior Fellow for Environmental Security and Science Policy at the IISS, and a Contributing Editor to Survival.

Matthew Harries: Trident and the spectre of unilateralism

On 20 January, the House of Commons debated the motion that 'this House believes that Trident should not be renewed'. Parliament voted in 2007 to renew the United Kingdom’s nuclear forces – but after eight years and a reported £1.24 billion in spending on the successor programme, it is still not entirely clear what will happen once the current generation of ballistic-missile submarines leaves service around 20 years from now.

That there will be British nuclear weapons in some form for decades to come remains the overwhelmingly likely option – and it is likely that nuclear warheads will continue to sit atop the Trident II D5, to be launched from nuclear-powered submarines whose primary purpose is to deliver ballistic missiles. That is the general arrangement in place now. But these propositions remain only likely, not certain. And even if they hold, one question is definitely not settled: how many submarines?

As a number of MPs pointed out, the motion at hand was imprecise. They were not just being pedantic: it is the submarines which need renewing in the coming years (through the building of a new generation of boats to replace the current Vanguard class), not the Trident missiles themselves (for which a life-extension programme is already in place). ‘Trident’ – as used here, too – has become shorthand for the British nuclear programme as a whole. Moreover, there was no chance whatsoever that the House would vote to stop renewal, since almost all Conservative and most Labour MPs favour keeping the deterrent. This was an Opposition Day debate, a chance for the parliamentary minority to have issues of their own choosing discussed. Tuesday’s was tabled by the Scottish National Party (SNP), Plaid Cymru and the Greens.

But, regardless of its practical import, the transcript of Tuesday’s debate is useful reading for anyone seeking to understand the state of British nuclear politics today. In many ways – as Crispin Blunt, the only Conservative MP to vote in favour of the motion, pointed out – the nuclear debate is still governed by the political fractures of the 1980s. The Labour Party fought two elections, in 1983 and 1987, on a platform of unilateral nuclear disarmament, pledging to cancel the nascent Trident programme (then the planned successor to the UK’s Polaris-armed nuclear submarines), remove US cruise missiles from British soil and get on with disarming the UK’s existing nuclear forces. Both times, Labour was convincingly beaten – for a host of reasons, of course, but unilateral nuclear disarmament came to be seen as one symbol of an electorally toxic swing to the left.

Labour’s 1983 party manifesto was famously dubbed the ‘longest suicide note in history’. And there is still in British politics – especially among the Labour leadership – an assumption that a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament is electorally suicidal for any party with ambitions to national government. Thus it is that former Labour members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament end up in 2015 proclaiming their unwavering commitment to disarmament – but only as part of a multilateral diplomatic process, and not through the UK’s unilateral abandonment of its own nuclear weapons.

A belief in multilateral disarmament is perfectly reasonable; it represents the collision between a moral imperative to lift the nuclear shadow, on the one hand, and the inconvenient fact, on the other, of nuclear possession by countries unlikely to see the light of disarmament any time soon. But it is a belief that does not lend itself well to impassioned argument, nor to the rallying of public support. Labour MP Joan Ruddock said on Tuesday that ‘a unilateralist is a multilateralist who means it’ – not exactly fair, but you get the point.

There is now an electorally relevant unilateralist force in British politics: the Scottish nationalists. Had the SNP succeeded last year in breaking up the Union, an independent Scotland would now be negotiating with Westminster about the practicalities of removing the UK’s nuclear forces from the submarine base at Faslane. That did not happen, but Labour’s apparent decline in Scotland makes it conceivable that the SNP will be a player in UK coalition negotiations after the general election in May. In that case, Trident could be a bargaining chip.

The Liberal Democrats, for their part, have spent their time in coalition with the Conservatives using every bureaucratic tool at hand to push for an adjustment in the UK’s nuclear posture. Thus far they have been thwarted. The Trident Alternatives Review concluded – primarily by virtue of a forecast that building a new warhead for a cruise-missile option would take longer than the time the current ballistic-missile submarines can remain in service – that a Trident-based deterrent is here to stay. But the Lib Dems believe, for better or for worse, that building a smaller fleet of submarines (fewer than the existing four) would save money, and would constitute a worthwhile step towards multilateral disarmament.

Labour, haunted by the spectre of unilateralism, is committed to renewing Trident. But building nuclear-armed submarines is not something the party embraces entirely naturally. It is not hard to imagine that, late at night after several days of coalition negotiations, the leader of the Labour Party could be convinced that a pledge to build a smaller submarine fleet was a price worth paying for a return to government. It was in this context that many people read Labour leader Ed Miliband’s remarks at the Labour campaign launch in Salford earlier in the month. ‘I want to see multilateral disarmament. I’m not in favour of unilateral disarmament’, Miliband said. ‘What does that mean? That means we’ve got to have the least-cost deterrent we can have.’

There is a Labour precedent here. In 2009, then-prime minister Gordon Brown surprisingly raised the possibility of a reduction in the Trident submarine fleet from four to three. The size of the fleet matters because it determines whether the UK can maintain its current posture of continuous at-sea deterrence (CASD) – meaning that it has at least one submarine on patrol and ready to fire at all times. CASD can be (and is currently) managed with four submarines; it cannot be done, over the long term, with two or fewer. With a fleet of three submarines things become more complicated: Malcolm Chalmers has assessed that CASD could be maintained with three boats in normal circumstances, but this would mean accepting that it could be broken in the event of an unforeseen mishap taking a boat out of service.

Vernon Coaker, the shadow defence secretary, was at pains to insist on Tuesday that Labour is just as committed to CASD as it is to Trident renewal in general. Yet he would not definitively commit the party to a four-boat fleet (an omission jumped upon by Philip Dunne, the Conservative minister for defence equipment), and he left enough wiggle room to suggest that the issue remains a potential coalition bargaining chip:

The evidence before us is that the continuous at-sea deterrent requires the current posture … As part of the strategic defence and security review [after the 2015 election], we will consider whether a continuous at-sea deterrent can be delivered in a more cost-effective way.

Meanwhile, Nick Harvey, for several years a leading Lib Dem voice on these issues – including in government as armed forces minister – was proposing a more drastic change in posture:

My belief is that we should for the time being retain the components of a nuclear deterrent – the warhead, and the ability to look after it; the missile, and the arrangement with the Americans; and the submarines capable of firing a nuclear weapon – and maintain a highly skilled work force that is regularly exercised in how to put back together the deterrent's components … I am proposing patrols not for part of the time but for none of the time. I propose that we simply retain nuclear capability as a contingency against a future situation where we made an assessment that we needed to operate a patrol.

It was not entirely clear from Harvey’s remarks how such an arrangement would work in practice, nor how many submarines would be involved – and past proposals for ‘non-deployed’ options, or others further down the nuclear ladder, have typically involved much simpler and cheaper delivery systems. In any case, Harvey and the Liberal Democrats were accused repeatedly, by Labour MP John Woodcock among others, of being closet unilateralists. Given the political capital some senior Lib Dems have poured into debating the minutiae of nuclear delivery platforms, one suspects their life would be much easier if that charge were true – though the party’s grass roots are another matter.

Should a Labour-led coalition emerge as the next prospective government, then, the stage is set for more negotiations on the UK’s nuclear future. It is possible that what will emerge, whether it is definitively stated in a coalition agreement or not, is the building of a smaller fleet of Trident-armed submarines. This would in one sense be a rather strange outcome. Those for whom nuclear weapons are vitally important would bemoan the damage to continuous at-sea deterrence, and those who think deterrence is a myth would be stuck with two or three boats they think are useless. Those who prefer a compromise in its own right might be pleased, but their number is small – and if the traditional maxim is that there are ‘no votes in defence’, there are even fewer votes in minor adjustments to defence procurement.

Tuesday’s debate in the Commons was evidence for the proposition that, whether or not one supports unilateral nuclear disarmament, the quality of these arguments is better when the case for unilateralism is made. But it did little to change the fact that – like many issues in this time of political flux – Britain’s nuclear future may yet be subject to a compromise that leaves all sides vaguely dissatisfied.

Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS.

Dana H. Allin: Obama's Luck

Ronald Reagan was a lucky president. He entered the White House in an era of American malaise. The country had been humiliated by revolutionary Iranians who held American diplomats hostage in their own embassy for 444 days. The economy had a suffered a novel and demoralising mix of high inflation and slow growth, aggravated by consecutive oil-price shocks. After a period of détente, US–Soviet confrontation had entered a very serious ‘second Cold War’.

Reagan was lucky because, in the course of his administration, all of these problems corrected themselves for reasons that were, at most, only partly related to his policies. The hostage crisis was resolved through negotiations between the Carter administration and the Islamic Republic of Iran, facilitated by the government of Algeria (though, in a final insult to Carter, the Iranians delayed the hostages’ release until the precise moment of Reagan’s inauguration). Inflation was defeated because Paul Volcker, a Carter appointee as chairman of the Federal Reserve, engineered a painful recession that lasted into the second year of Reagan’s presidency. The subsequent recovery was probably boosted by the Keynesian effects of Reagan’s increased defence spending (which also started under Carter) and tax cuts. The supply-side theory that the tax cuts would pay for themselves by encouraging investment proved as ridiculous as it sounds – when Reagan left office he bequeathed the country large structural budget deficits. However, the underlying economy was strong enough that when presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton reversed Reagan’s fiscal policies, cutting defence spending and raising taxes, there were large budget surpluses by the end of Clinton’s second term. Finally, the Cold War rapidly unwound when a new Soviet general secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev, launched radical reformism at home and conciliatory diplomacy abroad. Reagan reacted with wisdom and skill when he embraced Gorbachev’s radicalism, rather than distrusting it as many in his administration advised. The notion that Reagan’s early hardline policies actually produced the Gorbachev moment does not withstand historical scrutiny.

The point is this – good things happened on Reagan’s watch, and he was able to take credit for them in ways that set the parameters of American political debate for the next generation. A generation – exactly 20 years – after Reagan left office, Barack Obama entered the White House hoping to move those political parameters to the left precisely as Reagan had moved them to the right. Obama was quite explicit about this: before becoming president he spoke and wrote admiringly about Reagan’s achievement.

To emulate that achievement, Obama needed some of Reagan’s luck. And last night in his penultimate State of the Union address to Congress, after six wearying years of crisis, Obama looked and sounded like he had finally gotten lucky.

‘We are 15 years into this new century,’ the president began.

Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world. It has been, and still is, a hard time for many. But tonight, we turn the page. Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis.

That unemployment rate is 5.6%. Mitt Romney, when he ran for president in 2012, promised that if elected he would bring unemployment down to 6% by the end of his first term – that is, two years from now. And he almost certainly would have succeeded. Had he done so, he would have vindicated conservative policies on spending, taxation and regulation that, in truth, had little or nothing to do with causing economic recovery.

I am not implying that Obama deserves no credit for America’s recovery. The huge stimulus package that he marshalled through a Congress that was controlled by Democrats in his first two years, financial regulation to curb the excesses that led to the crash, the extension of some middle-class tax cuts that he was able to get through a Republican House of Representatives without extending Bush-era cuts for the very rich – these and other measures were sensible policies that, together with very aggressive monetary loosening from the Fed, have quite possibly saved America from the deflationary vortex that threatens to swallow Europe.

But the main achievement was in not thwarting a recovery that was overdue anyway. (Budget deficits have gone way down, but reducing them faster would have had that bad effect.) There is a foreign-policy corollary that the president touched on:

When we make rash decisions, reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads; when the first response to a challenge is to send in our military – then we risk getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts, and neglect the broader strategy we need for a safer, more prosperous world. That’s what our enemies want us to do.

Such caution has not earned the president much credit recently, and, of course, his foreign policy is still hostage to events. He was, however, able in the speech to claim that the ISIS advance in Iraq has been halted, while in Europe ‘it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters’.

Obama’s public-approval ratings have crept up since the Democrats’ defeat in November’s midterm elections, and are now about where Reagan’s stood at this point in his presidency. Reagan had been pulled down by the Iran–Contra scandal; Obama still faces implacable opposition to almost all of his ambitions from the Republicans who now control both Houses of Congress. That is why the specifics in his speech last night – statutory sick leave for employees, further middle-class tax cuts to be paid for with increased taxes on the wealthy, action on climate change (‘no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations’, he said) – were not seriously proposed as measures the Congress might actually enact in the next two years. Whatever his achievements in the final quarter of his presidency, they won’t be in the form of legislation.

They were, rather, set out as markers for the future. The president who believes that he has finally emerged from crisis hopes to use some of that luck to help determine his successor, and to get a purchase on history.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.  

Steven Simon: Israel’s Upcoming Elections

[Editor’s note: an earlier version of this post appeared on The Middle East Institute website on 15 January 2015.]

The electoral campaign in Israel is still unfolding, and with about three months to go anything might happen to upend predictions about the outcome. But there are straws in the wind.

The Israel Democracy Institute has released poll results that cover a lot of ground, some of it relevant to the upcoming elections. The poll was administered at the very end of 2014. Asked who would be the best candidate, 38% gave the nod to Benjamin Netanyahu, while only 18% approved Isaac Herzog, the Labour leader. The poll indicates that a plurality of voters – 40% – are still undecided, but the preference for Netanyahu aligns well with respondent preferences for a right-wing government versus a centre-left bloc. According to the poll, 55% of Israelis prefer a right-wing government, while a shade over 32% would like to see a centre-left governing coalition. The latter respondents are evidently a pessimistic group, since 60% of them believe that the right bloc has a better chance of forming the new coalition, versus 24% who believe that the centre-left bloc will emerge on top. Judging from these results, a majority of Israeli voters expect to be governed by a centre-right coalition regardless of who they hope wins the election.

In terms of their foreign-policy priorities, 48% of Israelis believe that even for a viable peace agreement with the Palestinians implemented under American auspices, Israel should not make territorial concessions in the West Bank. They are nearly matched, however, by the 46.5% who would support concessions. (These concessions were undefined in the supporting documentation, so it is difficult to know how to interpret these responses.) Interestingly, asked to what extent Israel should take the American stance on the conflict into consideration, 50.5% said that Israel should disregard the US position, while 46% thought that Israeli policy should align with that of Washington. The implication of these returns seems to be that whoever wins on 17 March is not going to feel under a lot of voter pressure to kowtow to Washington.

In the meantime, Netanyahu has fire-proofed himself to a degree by engineering a Likud list that, although distinctly right-wing, is not quite as radical in temper as recent lists. Based on a rightward shift in Likud, observers had begun to think that Netanyahu had lost control of his party, but apparently not. In part, this owes to Naftali Bennett’s departure from Likud and Netanyahu’s inner circle, which reduced intra-party right-wing pressure. Bennett has since formed his own successful party organisation. Gone too is Moshe Feiglin. The current list includes prodigal sons who had left Likud for Kadima but have since returned to Likud. These include Avi Dichter, a former Shin Bet chief well known to Americans who saw The Gatekeepers, a documentary generally regarded as critical of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. On the other hand, the list still offers Danny Danon, Yariv Levin and Miri Regev, all of whom are arguably to the right of Netanyahu, insofar as Netanyahu’s own instincts can be reliably interpreted. Netanyahu has also moved to offset his image as unimaginative by launching an online campaign for rank-and-file voters to nominate candidates for two slots on Likud’s list. The expectation is that these will go to women, of which there is a notable shortage on the current list.

The Labour Party list is dramatically different: many women, younger, and with a decidedly progressive cast. In addition to the one former security professional on it, Omer Barlev, who served as chief of Israel’s special forces and whose father was a famous general, they have now added former air force commander Amos Yadlin and declared that he would be the defence minister in a centre-left coalition government. Without him, one sensed that a list of this kind would not get very far, but it is clearly too early to call the race. Yadlin is respected for his security credentials and is a credible defence chief. And the facts are that Israel’s electorate is about evenly split on gender lines and its population, like those of its regional neighbours, is relatively young. So the Herzog/Livni list might prove to be more viable than one might think on Election Day.  

In another pre-election manoeuvre, former Netanyahu acolyte Michael Oren, until fairly recently Israel’s ambassador to the United States, joined forces with Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party. With Oren involved, Kulanu has instant credibility in regard to foreign-policy challenges. In a recent op-ed, Oren condemned Israeli stone-throwing at US consulate officials in the West Bank, describing the United States as ‘our most important ally, despite our disagreements’ and saying that ‘violence should not be tolerated’. He also called for the United States and Israel to ‘revive’ the Bush–Sharon letter, which allegedly distinguished between building isolated outposts in the West Bank (illegitimate) and construction in major settlement blocs and East Jerusalem (legitimate). As for Kahlon, he recently declared that ‘there is no [Palestinian] partner for peace’, but added that at such time as one emerges, he would be prepared to settle the territorial issue on 1967 lines with major settlement blocs and Jerusalem remaining in Israeli hands.

Yet, as things stand now, neither the peace process nor the state of US–Israeli relations is likely to animate Israeli voter choices on 17 March. More crucial will be Kahlon’s identification with more immediate social and economic concerns, a connection that isn’t standing up to close scrutiny. This might explain Kahlon’s slide in the polls – and perhaps Yair Lapid’s unexpected rise as he recoups his status as standard-bearer for the economically disadvantaged and a struggling middle class.

The split and apparent implosion of the Shas Party – an orthodox religious party catering primarily to Sephardic interests – between contending power brokers could complicate the coalition formation process, assuming that either or both of the two parties resulting from the split can leap the new, higher 4% threshold for membership in the Knesset. Shas has been one of the kingmaker parties in the Israeli system, and it exploits its swing status to secure government largesse for its voters. Shas’s absence would alter the usual dynamic of government formation.

Bernard Avishai’s recent article in the New Yorker deals in part with election dynamics and provides a counterpoint to the poll results discussed above. In it, he makes a strong case for the emergence of a centre-left government following the elections. I don’t share his analysis, however, in part because Netanyahu has situated himself very deftly astride strong, prevailing public security concerns and because stewardship of the US–Israeli relationship seems no longer to be a key criterion for voter confidence (which seems to be true in the United States as well). Thus, Netanyahu is probably not overly concerned about criticism of his relationship with Barack Obama, and might even calculate that it improves his image at home. More specifically, Avishai believes – or hopes – that a more centrist incarnation of Avigdor Lieberman will round out a centre-left coalition that at this stage would command about 50 seats, according to the most recent polls. The coalition would need at least 10 more seats; Avishai thinks they will come from Lieberman’s party. But given the decline in Lieberman’s party’s ratings, especially in the wake of a nasty corruption scandal, it is not clear that Lieberman could ride to the rescue even if he wanted to. The polling results will continue to oscillate, however, so readers are advised to distrust all predictions – including the ones in this blog post.

Steven Simon is a Senior Fellow at The Middle East Institute, and a Contributing Editor to Survival. He was Senior Director for Middle East and North Africa on the US National Security Council staff from 2011–12.

Dana H. Allin: Degrees of Separation

I was riding my usual train home last night when a friend in Boston called my cell phone. He announced, in preface, that he had something shocking to tell me. The sister of a mutual graduate-school friend was among the 12 people shot dead in the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris on Wednesday. She looked like my old friend, she was an accomplished and beloved psychologist, and she wrote a column for the magazine.

The driving distance between Paris and London, where I am writing this, is 280 miles – just a bit farther than Washington–New York. London may seem like a farther away world, but it isn’t, and the real point is that Europe is a small place with a lot of Muslims in it. The outrage in Paris has inspired clarion calls for moral clarity about defending the absolute right of free expression to the point of giving offence. These have been mixed with some other appeals to strategic subtlety and common sense about human relations, which are not necessarily at odds with the first calls, but are in a different key.

Some of the writers I admire most have come to varying conclusions on the matter. Jonathan Chait wrote on Wednesday afternoon to criticise the equivocators. ‘The Muslim radical argues that the ban on blasphemy is morally right and should be followed; the Western liberal insists it is morally wrong but should be followed. Theoretical distinctions aside, both positions yield an identical outcome’. Chait concluded, ‘One cannot defend the right [to blaspheme religion] without defending the practice.’ Peter Beinart on the same day noticed ‘a terrifying and fascinating evolution in war’: in the past four weeks North Korean and Islamist totalitarians have attacked crude film and print satirists, the Sony producers of The Interview and the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo. The choice then, is between surrender, and continuing to give offence. Ross Douthat, the conservative and very thoughtful New York Times columnist, writes somewhat differently: blasphemy is a liberal right but hardly a liberal duty, and it is not always wise; however: ‘The legitimacy and wisdom of criticism directed at offensive speech is generally inversely proportional to the level of mortal danger that the blasphemer brings upon himself.’ He goes on to quote with approval Christopher Hitchens, who in 2006 recalled that during the late 1980s furore over the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, Hitchens had shared a television studio with a ‘spokesman for outraged faith, and said that we on our side would happily debate the propriety of using holy writ for literary and artistic purposes. But that we would not exchange a word until the person on the other side of the podium had put away his gun.’

This seems right to me, even if it poses a chicken-or-egg problem. In any event, I probably wouldn’t have to worry whether I would think it wise to publish those satirical cartoons because I strongly suspect that I would not have the courage to do so, week after week, knowing – as the staff of Charlie Hebdo knew very well – that they were a potential death sentence. In this sense most of us are not Charlie, except in our most heroic fantasies. And it follows that my friend’s sister and her colleagues are heroes who died for our freedom.

The heroism should be celebrated. And yet, it is not quite right to say, as I think Chait came close to saying, that political leaders are cowards if they at other times call for caution, as Obama spokesman Jay Carney did regarding Charlie Hebdo’s publication of a Mohammed cartoon in 2012. This appeal came at the same time that he and other US government officials were criticising the video, ‘Innocence of Muslims’, which provoked a lot of anger and violence in the Muslim world.

For it is obvious that political leaders need to uphold enlightenment values and at the same time navigate the dilemmas of inter-communal relations. And right now, Europeans face very sharp dilemmas regarding the millions of Muslims in their midst, especially since it is not crazy to speculate that if the Paris attacks were planned by al-Qaeda or other jihadist strategists, they were anticipating the polarising benefits of adding to Marine Le Pen’s presidential vote tally in 2017.

On these dilemmas, I have only one modest observation: it is often a good idea to respect neutrality. This applies to foreign conflict and domestic struggle. If our values are strong and our societies are appealing, the neutrals will accrue to our column. Asking European Islamic leaders to condemn terrorist killings is reasonable, and many have done so. Expecting Muslim minority communities rapidly to embrace the complete European enlightenment narrative is perhaps unreasonable and not really necessary in order for them to be good and law-abiding citizens.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Steven Simon: Defeat Iran in Syria?

I’ve been tracking the arguments in favour of the United States intervening as a combatant in Syria’s civil war. They are varied and all make a certain amount of sense, even where they fail to explain how US interests would be served by intervention. This isn’t to say that US strategic interest is the sole legitimate premise for intervention, only that it’s reasonable to think that a calculation of interest would have to be involved.

The arguments have mostly revolved around humanitarian imperative, the core idea being that the best way to end the killing and the refugee crisis would be to win the war quickly and decisively, with regime change. (This, of course, is how the US likes to win wars, but local realities have conspired to disappoint.) Another justification has something to do with securing US influence over a segment of the opposition and then putting America’s thumb on the scale such that the favoured group wins and takes over the Syrian state. The result: enduring US influence over an Arab country in the very centre of the Middle East. Advocates have argued that, to achieve this influence, America needs ‘skin in the game’ – that is, it has to be involved in the war. (This is an ironic use of the phrase, which is usually deployed to suggest that if a fund manager puts his own money (skin) into the investment fund (the game), he’s less likely to take unnecessary risks.) A third argument pegged to the successes of ISIS in Iraq and Syria has lately been more prominent. In this view, the only way to beat the jihadist threat is to take down the Assad regime and hand over the reins to the moderate opposition, or at a minimum transform the moderate opposition quickly into a force that can suppress ISIS while battering the regime to the conference table.

There are serious defects in all of these justifications, but I’ve discussed them elsewhere and in any case I’m more interested in discussing the latest variation, as framed recently by Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic Monthly. Before I go any further, let me say that Goldberg isn’t the first to advance this thesis and I don’t mean to denigrate the quality of his foreign policy analysis. He is generally thoughtful and pretty nuanced. His endorsement of intervention is especially noteworthy because he’s generally supportive of Obama’s foreign policy, so his criticism of the administration’s approach to Syria requires careful consideration. Essentially, he argues that Iran is determined to dominate the Middle East and that it needs to be stopped. Obama, in his view, has a naive take on Iranian intentions. The evidence for this seems to be an interview Goldberg had with Obama a few years ago in which Obama defended the idea of negotiations with Iran, saying that Iran was careful in its calculation of costs and benefits, rather than a reckless risk-taker, that its leaders were not inclined to suicide and could thus be deterred from starting a nuclear war by America’s nuclear arsenal (and by inference Israel’s). To me this seems sensible, but for Goldberg the pattern of Iranian regional aggression – making a play for Yemen, pushing Lebanon around using Hizbullah, supporting Hamas – suggests that Iran cannot be contained. The proof is Iran’s support for the Assad regime, which is indeed particularly savage even by regional standards. But Goldberg goes further, asserting, in effect, that the regime’s savagery is merely an epiphenomenon; the driving force is Tehran. He cites, with evident approval, a blog post by Fouad Hamdan and Shiar Youssef asserting that:

Most major battles in Syria—along the frontlines of regime-held areas—are now being directed and fought by the IRGC and Hezbollah, along with other non-Syrian Shi‘i militias, with Assad forces in a supportive or secondary role.

This is a striking claim. I have checked with New York Times and Wall Street Journal reporters, with contacts in Syria and with former colleagues in the US government. All were perplexed by the assertion. All were aware, of course, of Iranian and Hizbullahi involvement in Syria’s civil war since at least 2012, a fact that the US government flagged for the media at the time. Hizbullah’s participation in the battles of Qusayr and Qalamoun is well known. But ‘most major battles … with Assad forces in a supportive role’? This doesn’t ring true.

But, as my Bible teacher used to say about scripture, for proponents of intervention ‘it’s true whether it happened or not’. The truth value of this claim is subordinate to their more urgent purpose of bringing the US into the war. Such proponents are moved, no doubt, by deep moral anguish at the unending carnage. The innovation in this case, however, is the removal of intervention from the domain of humanitarian interest, and placing it firmly in the realm of hard-headed geopolitics. Thus, the Syrian civil war is America’s opportunity to hand Iran a crippling defeat and stymie Tehran’s push for regional dominance. Intervention wouldn’t be social work, it would be rolling back a strategic rival.

‘Rollback’ has genuine appeal. Ten years ago, Jonathan Stevenson and I wrote an essay suggesting that rollback be an object of US policy, beginning in Lebanon. (The prescription did not include the use of force.) But rollback has never been popular with governments. The neoconservative movement in the United States was partly inspired by the idea that the US could roll back Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Neoconservatives later claimed vindication by observing that this is what happened under the Reagan administration. But, in truth, the United States did not roll back communism. Successive administrations shunned rollback as too expensive and too unlikely to succeed. Instead, they maintained a long-term and mostly patient strategy of containment; eventually the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions.

In the case of Iran, moreover, the case for rollback seems weak, if not contrived. Firstly, it overstates Iran’s regional gains, while understating its opportunism. Yes, Tehran enjoys significant influence in Baghdad, but it was the United States that made this possible. Sharing a role in Iraq seems unavoidable at this point. Iran has also made progress in Yemen by backing rebellious Houthis. With respect to US interests, which revolve around the suppression of al-Qaeda, Iran’s limited influence with its Houthi client matters only insofar as the political dysfunction that created the space for Houthi unruliness impedes counter-terrorism operations. That space, however, was created by our own client. And while Hamas has benefited from Iranian largesse, it has hardly been able to translate this largesse into a serious military advantage over Israel, or over Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. None of this gainsays Iranian ambitions or pretensions to regional influence, or that we’d all be better off if Tehran’s adventurism receded. It does call into question Goldberg’s image of an Iranian juggernaut.

This brings us to Syria. Assuming for the sake of argument that Iran and Hizbullah are now the frontline forces in the civil war, it follows that Tehran is now more directly committed than ever before. This raises some obvious problems for Tehran itself. Has it in fact inserted its power and prestige into a Vietnam-like quagmire? In any event, given the intensity of Iranian commitment implied by its alleged takeover of all major combat responsibilities, it is not clear what the US would gain by trying to outbid Iran, let alone what it would take. Nor is it clear what America would win in such a competition that it wouldn’t win instead by watching Iran sink into the mire.

This is all rather hypothetical. For the present, Goldberg makes another accusation of Obama administration naivete – indeed, it is the main frame for his article. Goldberg writes: ‘Obama seems to believe that a nuclear deal is, in a way, like Casaubon’s key to all mythologies: Many good things, he believes, could flow from a nuclear compromise.’ Based on this assessment of what the president thinks, Goldberg worries that ‘the price the U.S. has paid to reach this elusive deal’ is already ‘too high’. Indeed, Goldberg comes close to echoing the anxieties of some Arab governments that the US is ready to hand Iran hegemony over the Middle East in exchange for a nuclear deal.

These anxieties are not in any way justified by the realities of America’s current and future posture in the region. It is true, however, that the administration considers stopping Iran from building a nuclear weapon to be a supreme priority. In this respect, too, Goldberg’s claims are reminiscent of Cold War agitations of American neoconservatives, whose first target was the détente policies of the Nixon administration. Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s national security adviser and then-secretary of state, toyed for a while with the idea of establishing ‘linkage’ between strategic nuclear negotiations and Russian restraint, for example in supporting Hanoi’s war against American forces. In the end, however, linkage proved impractical, and the administration focused on the arms negotiations. It was heavily criticised for this by its neoconservative critics, who continued to direct their fire against the Ford and Carter administrations.

Here’s the thing, however: those strategic arms negotiations and agreements were in fact hugely important, paving the way for ultimate settlement of the Cold War. It is not crazy, or naive, to expect that a nuclear deal with Iran could open up other possibilities. And although such a deal may not be probable (I am less encouraged by President Rouhani’s recent remarks than Mark Fitzpatrick was in his Tuesday post on this blog), it is not hopeless.

Steven Simon is a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College and a Contributing Editor to Survival. He was Senior Director for Middle East and North Africa on the US National Security Council staff from 2011–12.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Rouhani is keen to strike a nuclear deal

Given the strength of hardliners in Iran and the red lines that have been laid down by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, I have been pessimistic about the prospects for a negotiated settlement to the nuclear crisis. In a good start to the new year, however, President Hassan Rouhani has threatened to go over their heads by putting the matter directly to the Iranian people.

In an astonishing speech at an economic conference on 4 January, Rouhani noted that the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran allows for a public referendum on important policy matters. This constitutional provision has never been employed and it is doubtful that Rouhani could force a referendum without Khamenei’s approval. But by suggesting this tactic, the president warned opponents that they should not prevent his negotiators from reaching a deal.

Rouhani also showed how keen he is to resolve the nuclear matter. In his speech, he said Iran must end its international isolation if the economy is to enjoy sustainable growth. Sanctions have not brought Iran to its knees; economic growth was positive last year and the inflation rate dropped from near 40% to under 25% in 2014. Yet there is no doubting their strong negative impact, especially when combined with the 40% drop in oil prices since June. The exchange rate suffered a 10% decline in the last weeks of the year and the stock market was down 20% from the previous year.

Some Iranians charge Saudi Arabia and the United States with conspiring to bring down the oil price as a weapon against Iran. Some even argue that in retaliation, Iran should walk out of the nuclear negotiations and end cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Any such provocation would be a ‘make my day’ gift to US hardliners. With the Congress now fully under Republican control, many legislators are eager to impose additional sanctions on Iran in order to tighten the economic pressure. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is cautious about bringing such legislation to the floor unless he knows he can entice enough Democratic votes to sustain a presidential veto. This will be difficult as long as a diplomatic solution appears in sight.

One element of a solution appeared to fall into place at the turn of the year when AP reported that in the December round of negotiations there was tentative agreement to ship stockpiled low-enriched uranium (LEU) out of the country. Although the Iranian Foreign Ministry denied the story, it remains plausible. Iran has previously pronounced itself willing to export LEU as an element to an agreement.

The AP also reported that for the first time negotiators drew up a catalogue outlining areas of potential accord and differing approaches to remaining issues. One of the key remaining issues involves the extent to which sanctions will be eased and when. President Obama has offered to suspend sanction implementation, but he does not have the authority to lift several key measures without congressional approval. Iranian hardliners insist that sanctions must be removed entirely, even though there is currently no possibility that the US Congress would agree to do so. Hence Rouhani’s warning about seeking a referendum.

Another key issue is the allowable size of Iran’s enrichment programme. The Western nations negotiating with Iran seek a limit of 4,000 first-generation centrifuges, while Iran wants to retain an equivalent of the nearly 10,000 now operating. In his speech, Rouhani indicated flexibility, hinting that size does not matter. ‘Our ideals are not bound to centrifuges’, he said. ‘Our ideals are bound to our hearts, brains and determination.’

I assume what Rouhani meant is that Iran should be smart enough not to pass up the prospect for making a deal with the best negotiating partner the country will face in the foreseeable future. President Obama’s boldness in restoring relations with Cuba is well known in Tehran. Similar rapprochement with Iran is not in the cards, but striking a deal on the nuclear issue can be done if Rouhani can overcome internal resistance.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Jeffrey Mazo: Noise and Signal in Climate Science

The last week or so has been a busy one for watchers of climate change and climate politics. On Monday I weighed in on the UN summit in Lima. But three other stories also drew my attention: new data on Arctic ice loss; 2014’s record temperatures and the end of the ‘pause’, and Denmark’s ‘claim’ to the North Pole. For all three, there is less than meets the eye, but they are interesting nevertheless. The first two show how headline climate news often, misleadingly, covers noise rather than signal. The third involves noise of a different sort - its significance lies not in the act but the signals it sends.

Arctic sea ice: the road to recovery?

On Monday the BBC reported that data from the European Space Agency’s Cryosat Earth-observation satellite launched in 2010 show ‘pretty stable volume – even modest growth’ in Arctic sea-ice volume. In October 2014, as the ice pack began to re-freeze, its volume was slightly down on 2013, and 12% above the five-year average.

But five years is far too short a time to detect a meaningful climate trend, and looking at a single month rather than seasonal averages or summer minima is misleading. A 37-year data set for sea-ice volume shows that September 2014 minimum volume was a slight increase on 2013 – the second year-on-year rise since 2008 – and was slightly higher than the 2009 minimum. But these figures are entirely in keeping with a continuing decline. There are always short-term fluctuations, and over the period of this data set one would expect two years to fall outside the 95% confidence interval for the trend. The 2014 low is one of them – it is anomalously high. It is also nearly half that of 1983, which was anomalously low at the time. Taking this year into account, the exponential trend still shows an ice-free Arctic by 2019.

The BBC story is thus factually true, but as presented is misleading to the non-expert and, as with previous short-term ‘recoveries’ from record lows in ice extent, likely to be exploited by climate-change deniers in the struggle for public opinion (see my posts ‘Storm in a Teacup’ and ‘Argument ex Cold Snap’ from May and June last year, and the discussion in chapter 1 of my and Christian Le Mière’s Adelphi book, Arctic Opening). Be on the lookout for more claims that global warming has reversed, and be aware of the fallacies in this argument.

Climate science: the pause that wasn’t

In those earlier posts, and in my article ‘Climate Change: Strategies of Denial’ in the August–September 2013 issue of Survival, I also discussed the purported ‘pause’, ‘slowdown’ or ‘hiatus’ in global warming over the last 10–15 years. In fact this pause is almost certainly an illusion based on cherry-picking the starting point, differential warming of the oceans and atmosphere, and statistical malpractice.

As 2014 comes to a close, and some – but not all – data sets suggest it might set a new record for the hottest year, two blog posts last week from climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf at Real Climate and statistician Grant Foster (‘Tamino’) at Open Mind explain the problems and issues clearly and in detail. As Rahmstorf puts it, ‘Given the warm temperature of 2014, we already see the meme emerge in the media that “the warming pause is over”. That is doubly wrong – there never was a significant pause to start with, and of course a single year couldn’t tell us whether there has been a change in trend.’ Tamino concludes that discussing decade-long trends is discussing statistical noise; such short periods tell us nothing about global warming. Once again the message that comes across in the media, and amplified in the denialsphere, is misleading.

Denmark ‘claims the North Pole’

According to most of the media, yesterday Denmark claimed the North Pole. Really, it didn’t; as I discussed in ‘Who Owns the North Pole?’ (Survival, February–March 2014), under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), no one owns, or can own, the pole. Like Russia’s previous claim and Canada’s impending claim, Denmark’s new claim is to an extended continental shelf beyond Greenland’s exclusive economic zone, which would give them rights to the resources of the seabed, but not sovereignty over the area. Nor was Denmark’s action unexpected. Denmark was up against a ten-year deadline from its accession to UNCLOS to make its claim.

What’s interesting about Denmark’s submission to the UN commission that rules on such matters is the size of the claim, which extends well beyond the North Pole and the median line with Russia and significantly overlaps Russia’s claim – and well beyond the median line with Canada. Once the UN commission rules on the scientific validity of the competing claims, the issue will need to be resolved by negotiation among the three countries, as I discussed my article. The Danes cannot reasonably expect to end up with rights to the whole area. Making the maximum possible claim – something the Russians refrained from doing – is a statement aimed as much at Canada or at Greenlandic opinion as at Russia. It also makes it more likely that Canada’s deferred claim will be maximal. But there is nothing in this new submission that would make me reconsider anything in my earlier article. 

Jeffrey Mazo is IISS Consulting Senior Fellow for Environmental Security and Science Policy, and Consulting Editor of Survival.

Dana H. Allin: A dismal reaction to the torture report

It has now been a week and some days since the US Senate Intelligence Committee released the unclassified summary of its detailed report on the CIA’s systematic torture of terrorist suspects after 9/11. My colleague Nigel Inkster has already reflected on the dispiriting contents. Although it covers facts that ‘have never been the subject of serious dispute’, what the report does make clear is that ‘greater levels of brutality had been employed than even well-informed outsiders had appreciated’.

The commentary that has followed the report’s release makes something else clear: the poisonous partisan divide in the United States includes disagreement on the question of whether the United States of America should torture prisoners. This is also something we already knew; I have written elsewhere about the destroyed consensus on a matter that was long ago settled in US treaty and law, and Steven Simon and I reflected on it in our book The Sixth Crisis, published in 2010.  Sadly, in the subsequent four years, the poison has not drained.

Among Republican office-holders, Senator John McCain last week again stood out as an honourable exception.  McCain, speaking with the moral authority of someone who endured torture in a North Vietnamese prison, called the document released by his Democratic colleague Dianne Feinstein ‘a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose – to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the U.S. and our allies – but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world’.

Former Vice President Cheney’s reaction, however, was more typical: the report, he said, was ‘full of crap’. Charles Krauthammer, who may be the most influential conservative commentator in America, wrote in the Washington Post: ‘In the aftermath of 9/11, there was nothing irrational about believing that a second attack was a serious possibility and therefore everything should be done to prevent it … A nation attacked is not a laboratory for exquisite moral experiments. It’s a trust to be protected, by whatever means meet and fit the threat.’

The most discouraging reaction, in a sense, came from Michael Gerson, the former George W. Bush speechwriter, and a devout evangelical Christian, who also has a column in the Washington Post. Gerson labelled the Feinstein report ‘an act of exceptional congressional recklessness’ which ‘comes in the middle of a war, targeting many Americans who are already engaged in it’. Gerson noted that intelligence officials are currently targeting terrorist suspects with drone strikes, which are also controversial, but with the difference that the drone campaign ‘is Obama’s favorite program.’ What is to prevent a future congress or president from going after the current pilots of those drones, Gerson asked, and he observed dismissively: ‘Some may argue a subtle moral distinction between harshly interrogating a terrorist and blowing his limbs apart.’

Well yes, some may argue a moral distinction, and they would be right. The brutality of war has not been abolished, but we will have lost all moral balance if we cannot distinguish between killing an enemy on the battlefield, and torturing him in custody. Of course, the use of unmanned drones as weapons of assassination does raise serious questions and poses the dangerous temptation of a kind of cost-free, permanent war. But an important premise of modern warfare is that, in advance of that distant Utopia when it is abolished, war can still be regulated through civilized laws and practice. Among the most fundamental of those laws is that you do not torture prisoners.

Many have argued that the only way to close the chapter of American torture is to hold those responsible for such acts to some level of accountability. Proposals for how to achieve such accountability have ranged from criminal prosecutions to a kind of Truth Commission, to presidential pardons. President Obama has taken a very different course, arguing that in the aftermath of 9/11, those charged with the nation’s security in effect panicked and committed acts that must not be condoned, but can be understood.  The solution, according to Obama, is to promise that the United States has returned to its best traditions and laws, while avoiding the inevitably partisan trauma of going after individuals in the CIA or the previous administration. Senator Feinstein said something along the same lines when she released the report: ‘It is worth remembering the pervasive fear in late 2001 and how immediate the threat felt.’

Krauthammer labels such extenuations ‘not just unctuous condescension but hypocritical nonsense’. His own conclusion: ‘under the direction of the Bush administration and with the acquiescence of congressional leadership, the CIA conducted an uncontrolled experiment. It did everything it could, sometimes clumsily, sometimes cruelly, indeed, sometimes wrongly. But successfully. It kept us safe.’ The unavoidable implication of Krauthammer’s words is that it may well be necessary to do it again.

Obama has issued a clear executive order banning such practices. As far as politics are concerned, however, American adherence to civilised norms and the rule of law is still unsettled, which is one reason that another major terrorist attack would again do very serious harm to the country. In the current issue of Survival, Jonathan Stevenson reviews Anton Corbijn’s excellent film, A Most Wanted Man, about counter-terror intelligence work in Hamburg. Among the film’s themes, as Stevenson notes, is a ‘methodological tussle between American and European spies’. In one exchange, the protagonist, a German spy-master played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last role before his death, tells an American colleague that he is not inclined to let her bundle a suspect off to a black site for interrogation. The CIA officer (Robin Wright) replies that ‘we’ – the Americans – don’t do those kinds of things any more. I won’t reveal how this story ends in the movie. And I won’t reveal how it ends in real life, because I don’t know.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Dana H. Allin: Reason, Finally, on Cuba

When news broke today on the Obama administration’s breakthrough of diplomatic relations with Cuba, I thought back to the Survival article by Linda Robinson advocating these steps. What I didn’t quite remember was that this article was published more than 14 years ago. That’s a long time, but only a fraction of the time that America’s embargo and policies of isolation against its neighbor have been a stunning and manifest failure. It is good to know that even the most stubborn commitment to folly can be corrected.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Alex Nicoll: UK constitution - a three-act play

Scotland’s vote in September to remain within the United Kingdom was but one step in what could turn out to be a constitutional upheaval. The outcome might be a very different kind of country. Or it might not be. At this stage, it is impossible to tell. As it turns out, the decisive outcome of the referendum did not even resolve the issue of Scotland’s future.

As I wrote in the Closing Argument in the current issue of Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, this drama has three parts (thus falling neatly into the Editor’s desired three-section structure for Closing Arguments). There is Scotland, there is England, and there is Europe.

The referendum loss seemed a major setback for the Scottish National Party (SNP), whose leader Alex Salmond immediately resigned. Not a bit of it. It has gained popularity and added many new members. Its narrative is that promises made in a last-minute panic by the leaders of the Westminster parties are not being met – even though the Scottish parliament is to win complete control over income tax as well as various other new powers.

But the new element is that the SNP stands to become a more important player at Westminster: conceivably, it could be one of the parties holding the balance of power after the May 2015 election. Salmond, considered one of Britain’s cleverest politicians, has not disappeared after all, but will stand for the UK parliament. The SNP, with its agenda of independence and removing the Trident nuclear deterrent from Scotland, could acquire significant bargaining power.

The SNP’s popularity gain threatens the Labour Party. Of the 257 current Labour seats at Westminster, 41 are Scottish. (The Conservatives hold only one of the 59 Scottish seats). In an exceptionally fluid period in British politics, polls indicate that no party will win a clear majority in May. That was what happened in 2010, but the Liberal Democrats held the balance of power and entered a coalition with the Conservatives. Next time, they are likely to lose seats and the SNP and the right-wing UK Independence Party could gain seats (they currently hold six and two respectively).

That brings us to England. Prime Minister David Cameron’s immediate reaction to the Scottish vote was to promise that English MPs would have greater power over English matters, since it was not fair that Scottish MPs could legislate for English laws when English MPs had no power over similar decisions in Scotland. He thus resurrected a hoary issue that is a favourite of the Conservative right, which can easily extract concessions from him because they can threaten to defect to UKIP, as two MPs already have.

Here, at least, there are signs that Cameron’s hasty promise could be tempered by political reality and the passage of time. When William Hague, the former foreign secretary, published a paper on the subject yesterday, it contained several options from the Conservative Party and none from Labour, which declined to take part, wishing to defer the issue until after the election. It might be that the parties can eventually agree on a parliamentary process for English MPs to have greater vetting or voting powers over English matters, but don’t hold your breath.

On the UK election outcome, and especially the performance of UKIP, will hang another vital issue, that of Britain’s future in Europe. The risk is that the UKIP argument (which centres around immigration) will gain popularity and sweep the country out of the European Union, with unknowable consequences for the UK and the rest of Europe. The lesson of the Scottish referendum is that asking voters to stick with the status quo is a case that must still be made positively. But will politicians learn it?

Alexander Nicoll is Senior Fellow for Geo-economics and Defence, Editor of Strategic Survey and Editor of Strategic Comments at the IISS.

Jeffrey Mazo: UN Climate Summit in Lima - The Road to Paris

In the early-morning hours on Sunday, two days past the scheduled deadline, negotiators at the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, agreed a ‘Lima Call for Climate Action’. The decision ran to 22 paragraphs over four pages, outlining the ‘ground rules’ for national emissions-reduction pledges in the run-up to adopting a comprehensive global agreement at the December 2015 climate summit in Paris. Appended to the document were 39-pages of ‘elements for a draft negotiating text’, outlining multiple alternatives for a final deal. These will be firmed up into a draft text by the middle of next year, and form the basis for the Paris negotiations.

The press coverage of the document has been downbeat for the most part. But Lima was never expected to be a breakthrough summit. It was, to be sure, the last high-level meeting before Paris. But the best that anyone should have expected would have been incremental progress towards a final deal – and that’s what we got. For the first time, all nations, both developed and developing, have agreed to make emissions cuts and to improve on those ambitions already announced. The document, however, reaffirms the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ and takes note of different national circumstances and capabilities – a core demand of the developing nations. There will also be greater transparency and detail with regard to national commitments, enabling UN advisory bodies and independent NGOs to better calculate their aggregate effectiveness in avoiding dangerous climate change.

At the Durban summit in 2011, which laid the groundwork for the current negotiations, the main roadblocks to success were the positions of the US and China. With the historic agreement between Washington and Beijing in November (see earlier posts by me and Dana Allin) providing crucial momentum going in to the Lima talks, the key holdout now is India, with Russia and Australia also showing continued reluctance to commit to significant reductions.

There’s still a long way to go to Paris, and it is by no means certain that a final deal will be sufficiently ambitious or robust to avoid dangerous climate change. Depending on which language in the ‘elements for a draft negotiating text’ makes it in into the final version, a Paris Accord could be what we need, or could be so vague and weak as to be pointless. A good analysis of the text can be found here.

Jeffrey Mazo is IISS Consulting Senior Fellow for Environmental Security and Science Policy, and Consulting Editor of Survival.

Matthew Harries: Ashton Carter's defence inheritance

At the turn of the twenty-first century (or Winter 1999–2000, in journal parlance), Ashton Carter – now nominated to be US Secretary of Defense – wrote for Survival on the evergreen topic of ‘Adapting US defence to future needs’. Then a professor at Harvard and a veteran of the first Clinton administration, Carter struck a bullish note. ‘The American military’, he wrote, ‘is the envy of the world’. America’s post-Cold War fighting reputation rested then on a decade of awesome intervention, in operations ranging from Desert Storm to the invasion of Haiti.

But Carter wrote in order to warn, not to boast. He feared that ‘the relatively minor challenges of the post-Cold War era to date have engendered a dangerous complacency in American national-security thinking.’ The ensuing twenty pages, drawing partly on Preventive Defense, his co-authored book with former defence secretary William Perry, were Carter’s attempt to counter that complacency, and to define questions which the US defence establishment would need to answer in the years to come.

We leave it to you to read Carter’s thoughts in full. But it is worth making a couple of observations. Firstly, if cautious in his scholarly approach, Carter’s judgement was undoubtedly solid. His run-down of possible ‘A-list’ threats to the United States sounds about right today: a ‘Weimar Russia’ (that is, a Russia reduced to the ‘chaos, isolation and aggression’ of post-WWI Germany); unsecured post-Soviet nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; a rising China, ‘spawning hostility’; WMD proliferation; and the danger of ‘catastrophic terrorism’ on home soil. Carter warned that the latter ‘would be at once an attack, a crime and a disaster’ – and so, less than two years later, it proved to be. 

Secondly, there is ample evidence to support Carter’s reputation as a highly competent, bureaucratically-attuned defence manager. He identified four areas needing new thinking; while the first was ‘strategy’, broadly conceived, the remaining three were all fundamentally technocratic. Carter urged adaptation in Department of Defense (DOD) budgets and programmes; in defence organisation and management; and to position the DOD favourably in the emerging ‘defence economy’. His observations were detailed, thoughtful and grounded in the belief that ‘while not usually regarded as a feature of defence “policy”, the organisation of the government for national security is an important concern’. 

Lastly, though many of Carter’s recommendations were to be followed, to varying extents, in the ensuing decade and a half, it is hard not to be struck by his closing prophecy:

When the important threats are those that might be rather than those that are, when success against the lesser challenges of the moment appears to create a prima facie case that all is well, and where the fundamental shifts occurring in the international environment are nonetheless gradual and subtle, there is no ‘forcing function’ compelling attention to the need for change. There will be no public clamour for it. The clamour will come later, when this relatively safe post-Cold War era seems like a distant golden age and the question asked of defence leaders will be, ‘Who lost it?’.

It is arguably now time for such clamour – and I wonder if, fifteen years later, as he prepares to become the United States’ most senior of defence leaders, that same question is on Ashton Carter’s mind.

Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS.

Ben Fishman: Don't over-interpret Hagel's departure

The resignation of US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on 24 November overshadowed what was supposed to be the biggest foreign-policy news of the week – the results of the Iran nuclear diplomacy in Vienna.  In fact, the two issues are related, and suggest that the Obama administration is unlikely to pursue major departures in policy just because the Republicans swept the mid-term elections or because the president may be seeking to regain his footing in a crisis-ridden world.

The seven-month extension in the nuclear talks agreed over the weekend suggests that the administration’s fundamental approach to one of its highest priorities will remain the same, at least until the middle of 2015. The US is continuing to bet that ongoing sanctions will shift Iran’s bottom line. Only in the worst of circumstances, if a breakdown of diplomacy were to occur, would the secretary of defence be called upon to play a key role in executing a military strike – a possibility Obama must have already considered when he nominated Hagel almost two years ago.

Similarly, the administration’s priorities in Afghanistan and Asia seem to be a continuation of long-standing strategy rather than any abrupt departure. In Afghanistan, US troops will reportedly play a larger-than-expected role in 2015, but this is as much because of improved relations with Afghanistan’s new president Ashraf Ghani as because of tensions between the Pentagon and White House. The President’s recent trip to Asia also produced two notable ‘confidence-building measures’ on military and naval activity with China, a key achievement for the so-called ‘pivot’ to Asia.

Hagel’s departure may be felt more significantly amid the ongoing crises with Russia and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). But here too, the administration is likely to consider several options before adopting more dramatic postures, such as targeting the Assad regime or placing limited numbers of ground troops back in Iraq for certain prescribed missions. Clearly the voice of the defence secretary is critical in such discussions, but it is not determinative: Robert Gates advised against the bin Laden raid, for example, while Leon Panetta differed with the White House on the value of arming Syria’s rebels. Whoever succeeds Hagel (Ashton Carter, Obama’s former Deputy Secretary of Defence, may be a front-runner now that Michèle Flournoy has withdrawn from consideration) will have their work cut out for them in gaining the president’s confidence and establishing their relevance within the policy process.

More than likely, Hagel's resignation was prompted by a mutual recognition that he simply was not a good match within Obama’s national security team. The episode is reminiscent of the resignation of General James Jones as Obama’s first national security advisor after less than two years in the job. Jones, a well-regarded retired Marine general, clashed with Obama’s inner circle of campaign advisers and never blended well with the administration’s policy-making style. Hagel appears to have suffered from similar problems, compounded by his weak performances on the public stage starting with his January 2013 confirmation hearing.

The jury is still out on whether Obama intends to make additional changes to his national-security team. One key role will be finding a replacement for Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken, now the nominee for deputy secretary of state. But for now, pundits seeking to hype Hagel’s resignation as a signal of more significant shifts in policy should take a step back, and realise that this president is always methodical and lawyerly. Policy shifts are based on more than changes in personnel, no matter how influential.

Benjamin Fishman is IISS Consulting Senior Fellow for the Middle East and North Africa. He served on the US National Security Council Staff from 2009–2013. He is the author of ‘Jordan: Caught in the Middle Again’, in the December 2014–January 2015 issue of Survival

Mark Fitzpatrick: Iran nuclear diplomacy survives to fight another day

Lamentable though it is that a deal could not be reached on the Iran nuclear crisis, a seven-month extension of the interim deal and a continuation of talks is the second-best outcome. It is not easy to see what will happen between now and July that will make agreement any more possible. But the art of diplomacy is often about buying time because circumstances might change for the better. In the meantime, as long as sanctions remain in place and Iran’s enrichment programme remains capped, all parties involved are better served than would be the case if the negotiators in Vienna had given up and declared failure.

The fact that agreement couldn’t be found in 12 months on an issue that has been festering for over 12 years is not surprising. Lengthy negotiations are often the diplomatic norm. The Paris Peace Accords to end the Vietnam War took five years to conclude. The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks between the US and Soviet Union took three years to reach the first agreement (SALT-I) and seven more years to reach produce SALT-II. Seven months is longer than almost anybody had predicted for the extension, but the longer the better. One positive outcome of the talks is that Iran and the United States have a sustained channel of communication, something that they lacked for most of the past three decades.

‘No deal is better than a bad deal’ has been the mantra of many parties, both those involved and those watching closely from the sidelines in Iran’s neighbourhood. Many of them may now feel some satisfaction at the absence of the worst case. As Israeli Brig.-Gen. (ret) Shlomo Brom argued earlier this month, however, a ‘bad deal’ was never possible, given the internal and external constraints on President Obama and his own stated policies. The proper attitude is frustration that a good deal wasn’t reached, combined with relief that the negotiators did not throw in the towel.  

A deal wasn’t possible because of the fundamental difference that has prevented a solution for the past 12 years: the major powers want to prevent Iran from having a path to nuclear weapons and Iran wants to preserve that option. It doesn’t say so directly, of course. Iran insists its reasons are advancement of technology and science, independence from foreign fuel-providers and national pride. But none of these rationales explains why Iran needs an industrial-scale enrichment capability when Russia has promised to provide all the fuel for Bushehr and any future reactors for their lifetime. Nuclear hedging is the answer.

As the finger-pointing begins, Iran claims that the US and its allies have made unreasonable demands. But considering what the West wanted at the beginning of the talks and what they have been ready to settle for now, the list of compromises is extraordinary. I count at least 12 Western concessions, each of which Iran could have claimed as a victory:

1. Iran is not required to meet the UN Security Council resolutions mandating suspension of sensitive nuclear activities;
2. It can keep enriching uranium forever, which can be interpreted to mean it has an implicit right;
3. Iran can continue enrichment R&D (research and development);
4. It is allowed to keep more centrifuges than it needs for its legitimate need to refuel the Tehran Research Reactor;
5. Limits on the program will last perhaps only ten years, half of what had been sought;
6. At the end of established length of the final deal, Iran will be accepted like any other Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) party with no limits on its civilian nuclear programme;
7. Before agreement is reached, Iran does not have to answer all IAEA questions about alleged past weaponisation work;
8. Iran can keep the Arak research reactor and not convert it to a light water reactor;
9. Iran can keep the Fordow facility operating as an R&D facility;
10. It does not have to ship enriched uranium out of the country;
11. It does not have to restrict its missile programme; and
12. It does not have to dismantle any facilities.

In the absence of an agreement, most of these concessions cannot be pocketed. Iran will continue to receive $700 million a month from its frozen accounts, but more than $700m of its oil sales will continue to be locked up each month by the continued US sanctions. As long as Iran’s enrichment program remains capped, the Western countries are the net beneficiary of the extension.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Jeffrey Mazo: What does the US–China deal mean for climate change?

The 12 November announcement by presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama of their countries’ post-2020 targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions has been hailed as historic. It is important for a number of reasons. It is the first time China has made a formal, quantified commitment to emissions reduction (rather than merely slowing emissions growth). It reflects Obama’s decision to use executive action to cope with important issues, so as to avoid the need for congressional approval (see Survival Editor Dana Allin’s blog post from 18 November). Moreover, as a joint action between the world’s two top emitters, it gives new impetus to the multilateral negotiations to reach a global agreement in Paris in December 2015.

But the most important thing is the numbers. The US has pledged to reduce its emissions (compared to 2005 levels) by 26–28% by 2025, and make best efforts to meet the higher number. China has pledged to reach peak emissions no later than 2030, make best efforts to do so earlier, and increase the share of non-fossil-fuel energy sources to 20% by 2030. How significant are these targets? Do they reflect real progress? Will they be enough, on their own or embodied in a global treaty, to prevent dangerous or even catastrophic climate change?

Emissions and warming projections are hugely complicated and involve multiple scenarios, trajectories, assumptions and uncertainties. But some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations can give an idea of the scale of the problem. The world’s nations and scientists have settled on warming of 2°C since the beginning of the industrial age as the threshold for ‘dangerous’ climate change, and as the target for international emissions-reduction agreements. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change synthesis report published on 1 November, scenarios that have a two-thirds chance of keeping warming below this threshold ‘are characterised by a 40–70 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, relative to 2010 levels’. The UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report 2014, released on Wednesday, agrees, giving a figure of 49–63%. Total greenhouse-gas emissions will have to come down to net zero by sometime between 2080 and 2100 (actual CO2 emissions must reach net zero between 2055 and 2070), and there will have to be significant ‘negative emissions’ (withdrawal of carbon from the atmosphere) thereafter. Emission would therefore have to peak well before 2030; around 85% of scenarios with a two-thirds chance of avoiding dangerous climate change have emissions peaking in or before 2020.

UNEP warns that to avoid the 2°C threshold, annual global greenhouse-gas emissions will have to decrease from the current level, equivalent to 54 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, to 47Gt by 2025 and 42Gt by 2030. But for 2025 there is a gap of 7–10Gt, rising to 14–17Gt by 2030, between these targets and what the nations of the world have committed to achieve, including non-binding pledges.

This ‘gigatonne gap’ is the focus of negotiations towards a binding Paris Accord. The broad outlines of such an agreement were established at the Durban climate summit in 2011. Countries are expected, if possible, to set out their long-term emissions-reduction commitments by the first quarter of 2015. Any remaining gap will have to be addressed before or during the December summit.

Before the Beijing announcement, the US had committed to a 17% reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2020 and an 80% drop by 2050, as announced by Obama before the Copenhagen summit in 2009. These targets were part of a bill that had passed the House of Representatives, along with targets of 30% by 2025 and 42% by 2030. (The bill never came to a vote in the Senate.) The commitment of 26–28% by 2025 announced in Beijing is thus weaker than US ambitions five years ago. UNEP’s ‘gigatonne gap’ reflected only the 2020 commitment, however, so the Beijing pledge reduces the gap by .56–.68Gt, or around 5–10%.

Until now, China has refrained from formal commitments on emissions reductions; its goals have always been cast in terms of reduction in carbon intensity, or emissions per unit of GDP. Beijing’s previous pledges to reduce carbon intensity translate to a 2020 emissions level of 14.5Gt, a 75% increase over 2010. With China responsible for about a quarter of global emissions, and the need for global emissions to peak well before 2030, a national peak by 2030 does not bode well for avoiding dangerous climate change. Moreover, the goal of 20% of primary energy production from non-fossil-fuels by 2030 actually represents a decline in the rate of uptake of such sources compared to the previous target of 15% by 2020.

Nevertheless, China is on target to meet its 2020 carbon intensity and renewable energy commitments, and a target of 2030 for peak national emissions is significant in two respects. It is the first time such a formal commitment has been made, and it is an earlier target than was being discussed by many Chinese experts earlier this year, when the idea that Beijing would make such a commitment was first mooted. Estimates of when Chinese emissions will peak have tended to centre around 2030, but with considerable leeway in either direction. A firm pledge at the centre rather than the top of the range is encouraging. And Xi’s pledge that China would ‘make best efforts’ to peak earlier than 2030, like Obama’s identical language with regard to the US 2025 target, is meaningful even if it isn’t binding. Both countries have compelling interests in reducing emissions, but also in maintaining the strength of their economies. The two goals are not mutually exclusive if the transition is managed properly, and there is no reason to doubt that both countries will reduce emissions as fast as they feel they can, even in the absence of a binding global deal.

The targets announced in Beijing are not game-changers. They will have little direct effect on the chances of avoiding dangerous climate change, although they may be much more significant in reducing the odds of catastrophic warming of 4°C or more. The importance of the joint announcement is political. The timing was significant, coming earlier than expected in terms of the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change negotiations leading to Paris, and immediately before the G20 meeting in Brisbane, putting climate change high on the agenda against the inclinations of the host government.

The Beijing targets are not, formally, the result of a bilateral deal, but rather parallel statements of national policy. But the joint announcement included a great deal of substance in terms of technological and research cooperation. As Dana Allin pointed out in his earlier blog post, these measures will have a significant global political and technological knock-on or feedback effect that should encourage innovation.

Dana also notes that US domestic politics make it unlikely that the country will formally commit to emissions reductions, through legislation or treaty, certainly in the next two years and probably beyond that. America’s 2009 emissions pledges remain non-binding; even when it controlled the Senate before 2010, the president’s party was unable to come up with enough votes to pass the law that had been approved by the House before Copenhagen. With a two-thirds majority in the Senate needed to ratify international treaties, the prospects for approval of a Paris Accord even if the Democrats regain control of the Senate in 2016 remain slim.

But a Paris Accord will not take effect until 2020, and things may change. The US electorate, on balance, supports action on climate change, even if that support is lukewarm. A major climate disaster, or a series of disasters, could galvanise the voters and bring pressure for ratification. Meanwhile, serious emissions reduction commitments by China and India would undermine the strongest argument against ratification. Or, the United States may find itself isolated, with its allies and its adversaries lined up against it on the climate issue.

That doesn’t mean the US will bow to the pressure. It remains the only powerful country that has not acceded to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea(UNCLOS), for example. But unlike UNCLOS, which the US government treats as customary international law and which functions well without US participation, a global climate change agreement probably won’t work without formal US ratification, and the international pressure will be correspondingly greater. When I reviewed Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth in Survival eight years ago, I invoked an editorial cartoon from 1920, which depicted the League of Nations as a fire engine with a wheel-less rear axle propped up on a jack. While a woman labelled ‘Europe’ pointed at smoke billowing from Poland, Uncle Sam leant back on the missing wheel and laughed. The caption read, ‘We told you it wouldn’t work’. A global climate deal in Paris is probably the only way of avoiding dangerous climate change – if indeed it is not too late. Without US participation, that won’t happen, but without US pressure in the negotiations, agreement won’t be achieved in the first place. And if climate talks fail, through lack of agreement or lack of ratification, the only way of avoiding catastrophic climate change will be national actions and international cooperation. Thirty years from now, a Paris Accord could be seen as one of the most important parts of Obama’s legacy, or as one of Obama’s greatest failures. But if it is a failure, it will be his and his successor’s executive actions, both domestic and international, that will deflect an even greater disaster.

Jeffrey Mazo is IISS Consulting Senior Fellow for Environmental Security and Science Policy, and Consulting Editor of Survival.

Mark Fitzpatrick: I expect no Iran nuclear deal. I hope I’m wrong

I do not expect that the talks in Vienna on the Iranian nuclear issue will produce a comprehensive agreement, at least not by the 24 November deadline. But I hope I am wrong about this. A deal that verifiably blocks all of Iran’s potential paths to a nuclear weapon – which is the only deal that the Western nations will accept ­– and that allows Iran to resume unfettered international commerce would be to the benefit of the world, of the region and of most of the players involved.

‘Blocking’ the paths means limiting uranium enrichment and plutonium production capabilities, and allowing for sufficient monitoring of both declared and undeclared facilities as to be able to detect and obstruct in a timely manner any attempt at building a bomb.

Not all of the players desire such a deal, however. Iranian hardliners who want a quick path to an atomic bomb, needless to say, would not be happy to have their goal obstructed. As I see it, a weapons option is a national quest. Iran’s uranium enrichment programme does not otherwise make sense. Iran is not currently trying to produce a bomb. For the past few decades, however, its nuclear programme has hinged on a hedging strategy. Equipping dual-use enrichment facilities enables Iran to produce nuclear weapons if and when Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei lifts his fatwa against it.

The internal debate in Iran appears to be largely over tactics: how quickly the weapons path must be available. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani are willing to accept a longer delay. Those who want a quicker path, however, dominate many parts of the Iranian polity. This is why I doubt an agreement will be reached in Vienna.  

Iranian hardliners who consider it heretical to deal with the devil – the ‘Great Satan’, as the US is called – would also be displeased by a deal that removed the greatest obstacle to Iran–US rapprochement. Negotiations have proceeded because Khamenei, despite his intense distrust of America, gave his blessing to them. He does not think they will succeed, however, and he opposes reconciliation. I see little sign that he would accept a deal that seriously constrained Iran’s nuclear programme.

A nuclear deal would not make for friendship between Iran and the West. There are too many other troublesome issues in the way, including Iran’s antipathy to Israel, its patronage of Hizbullah and other groups that employ terrorist tactics, its support for Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime, its meddling in Yemen and its abysmal human rights record.

But resolving the nuclear issue would remove the major blockage to regularising relations and the potential casus belli. There would be no more talk of military options on the table. Iran–US relations could become normally nettlesome – like US–Venezuela relations, for example. The countries would remain at loggerheads over many issues without presenting fundamental threats to each other’s national security interests.

There remains a possibility that rapprochement could lead to something more: for example, going beyond de facto cooperation in fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Today, the US and Iran coordinate their attacks only to the extent of going through Iraqi officials to advise the other to stay out of the way. Cooperation could become more direct, as it was in 2002, when Iran provided intelligence to US and Afghan Northern Alliance forces fighting the Taliban. Another area of potential cooperation with the West is countering narcotics smuggling. Given the 2 million Iranians (of a population of 77m) hooked on drugs, this should be a national priority.

There are also many avenues of potential trade, of course. Iran’s well-educated and largely middle-class consumers are a tempting market that has long been suppressed. The entrepreneurial elements of the 4–5m strong Iranian diaspora are champing at the bit to facilitate trade. However alluring such prospects are for most Iranians, however, resumption of normal commerce with the West is less welcome to the para-governmental bodies, many of them in the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, that benefit from the economic distortions imposed by sanctions.

On the other side, there are many in the US and Israel who oppose any deal that would leave Iran with an enrichment capability. That is to say, they oppose any feasible deal. In contending, however, that additional sanctions could compel Iran to completely surrender, they display an utter lack of understanding about the Iranian mind-set. Yet one needn’t be an Iran expert to know that no proud nation submits to surrender unless utterly defeated on the battlefield. Whether they realise it or not, those in the West who oppose a deal with Iran are, by extension, proposing to wage war.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Darby Arakelian and James P. Farwell: Credibility is the key to exposing ISIS

The images of Christians crucified, innocent civilians shot in the head and journalists brutally beheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) – in Arabic, Da’esh – play like a scene out of Dante’s Inferno. Retired Marine General John Allen calls the extremists’ propaganda machine ‘cruelly effective’ and argues that defeating ISIS requires exposing it as the ‘un-Islamic, criminal cult of violence that it really is’.

His solution is both right and wrong. He’s right that Muslims need to drive the messaging that discredits ISIS. But he and others are off the mark in presuming that the US is the right messenger. The US State Department is no less misguided. Its recent video mocking the idea that ISIS offers a life of thrills and adventure – rather than death – misreads the group’s attraction. ISIS followers embrace both its brutality and the likelihood that its fighters will be ‘martyred’.

ISIS recruits through messaging that proclaims a sense of purpose, worth by identification with a holy cause, and a cause to die for that offers unparalleled jihadist thrills, companions, training and the opportunity to beat the US and to kill infidels while vindicating Allah’s vision for the world. US rhetoric that builds up ISIS only helps to draw new recruits. And recruitment is working. The United Nations Security Council reports that 15,000 foreign jihadists have swarmed into Syria and Iraq on an ‘unprecedented scale’ from more than 80 countries. Media reports suggest that 1,000 fighters arrive in Syria to join each month.

Getting the basics right

Winning the information war requires a realistic strategy – which, in this case, means accepting certain basic principles.

Firstly, while projecting a sense of purpose and power – an unattained goal, so far – the US must avoid injecting itself into tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites that have persisted for over a thousand years, and avoid making itself the issue as a rallying point for ISIS fighters.

Secondly, Muslims need to lead the information war and its messaging. Western countries can provide support, while working on getting communications towards their own domestic audiences right.

Thirdly, the stakes must clearly be defined, as must narratives and messages that strike a responsive chord with Muslim audiences in particular. Adverts like the State Department’s miss that point.

Fourthly, as President Obama has put General Allen in charge of coordinating US efforts in the Middle East, he should be empowered fully with resources and authority across the whole of government to get the job done. That includes empowering him with authority over US information warfare in the region, not dividing it among government bureaucracies that by nature act slowly and often inflexibly.

No single narrative, theme, or message fits every strategy. But these components must be consistent and tightly woven, gamed and coordinated – and tailored to each target audience. While offering core observations about these below, we consciously avoid identifying a sophisticated array of options, including denial and deception campaigns that make information warfare especially effective.

Finally, a communications strategy must integrate with military choices and align with political realities.

Towards a strategy

With these principles in mind, how should the information war against ISIS be fought? This is a question with neither a simple nor an unchanging answer. Beating ISIS will take time, resources and the patience to reconcile conflicting political and military imperatives. What’s more, the conditions that produced ISIS are likely to produce other groups like it, unless they are themselves addressed.

All of this makes it rather easier to identify elements of the right approach than to specify exactly how they are to be executed. But without an attempt to identify those elements, a winning strategy is likely to remain out of reach.

Winning starts by recognising that ISIS is no ordinary enemy. It manifests true evil; it revels in its barbarity. You don’t defeat evil: you eradicate it. Winning requires its destruction; any outcome short of that is failure.

After an understanding of the enemy must come an understanding of political realities. US policy today presumes the Iraqi government will unify the country. We doubt this will occur, which could crater any current strategy for destroying ISIS. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is entrenched in Iraq’s sectarian politics. Many Sunnis and Kurds are sceptical about his leadership and his promises for reconciliation. Perhaps a loose confederation among Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds might work, but that is not current policy. Whatever the political solution, winning the information war requires getting the politics right. Sunnis will not risk their lives to destroy ISIS only to restore the oppressive status quo ante. Why should they?

Well, assuming an inclusive political order is achievable; the next step should be to show Sunnis, clearly, that ISIS will lose. Telling Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis that ISIS is barbaric tells them nothing they don’t already know. Motivating and mobilising Iraqi Sunnis to actively oppose ISIS requires them to decide both that they can trust the central Iraqi government, and that the government will prevail. A communication strategy aimed at making that point – both to Sunnis and to the government’s own battered, demoralised army – is vital.

By way of example, US marines achieved historic success in mobilising tribes against al-Qaeda in Anbar Province. How? They forged bonds of trust with Sunni leaders, provided meaningful support, acted as true partners and persuaded the Sunnis that the US were winners. Thus, for the second battle of Fallujah in November 2004, savvy US commanders went out of their way to communicate that they would prevail, through concrete demonstrations of power and resources and close coordination with Iraqi allies. It made a pivotal difference.

General Allen needs the authority to make this happen today. So far, President Obama has rejected advice from General Lloyd Austin and others to embed US Special Operations Forces with the Iraqi army in combat roles, except as requested on a case-by-case basis – although he has doubled the number of advisers in non-combat roles, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has since mentioned the possibility of this occurring again. We leave military strategy to the military, but, if taken, steps like this have a significant impact on the information war. 

Meanwhile, many Shi’ites have answered the Iraqi government’s call to arms. We should encourage the Shia-led government to conduct a communication campaign aimed at blunting Shia hostility to Sunnis, by making clear that past divisions will be fatal to their future. And despite understandable doubts about anything Iran does, Iraqi Shia leaders need to persuade their allies in Tehran to actively support that message.

Iraqi Kurds will also require reassurance that the US will stand with them – and for good reason: the United States’ track record in supporting allies is dicey. Turkey may worry about the Kurds, but in Iraq the Kurds have stood with the United States. They merit public support. America should drive home the message that it will support the Kurds, upon whom it is heavily depending to provide ground troops to fight ISIS, especially with new doubts about the viability of Syrian rebels, some of whom have surrendered to Jabhat al-Nusra. Turkish antipathy makes this especially vital: the Kurds need to know the US won’t make a deal with Turkey that undercuts them.

Convincing our friends that the fight against ISIS will be won, however, is not enough – the message must be carried to the group itself. Even the most committed are vulnerable to doubt and demoralisation. It is ISIS’s Muslim adversaries, not the US, who must lead in making this point, by military means, including taking down the somewhat centralised upper-tier leadership. That will enable ISIS’s enemies to drive the message that the group is doomed.

The messenger matters…

This raises another, broader point – namely, that the US is not a credible messenger to Muslims in the Middle East. Communication campaigns that regional partners themselves mount at home and in the region, using credible spokespersons, are essential. The United States’ role is to provide support. US proficiency in cyber technology and social media can help identify resonant voices – positive and negative ones – whose messages arouse emotions that influence behaviour. Such assistance can help regional partners mobilise positive voices and neutralise hostile ones.

The US can also provide support through sophisticated, in-depth opinion research to help regional partners identify narratives, themes and messages that will strike a responsive chord among their populations. It bears stressing, however, that it is up to Muslims to lead. The US must communicate clearly through words and deeds that it will not and cannot itself assume that role.

Individual Muslim states need to mount their own campaigns, but it makes sense to create a regional team that can help coordinate communication efforts. Again, whatever its role, the US should remain in the background. This will not be easy, but it is necessary in order to expedite the undoing of ISIS. So too is an effort to give international visibility to resonant Muslim voices who attack ISIS’s credibility and legitimacy. The details of how this will be done need to be worked out on a case-by-case basis, but the task is essential.

One creative approach may be to develop messaging specifically for female audiences. Again, this should be done on a country-by-country basis, and led by credible, resonant voices. In this case, such voices may include those of mothers of former jihadists and martyred sons who have felt the impact of self-selection for ISIS.

Identifying credible voices and mobilising influential Muslims to stand up and speak out against ISIS is important. No less important is for the Arab street and Muslims internationally to make their opposition seen. This means that regional partners must permit, and indeed encourage, their populations to make visible demonstrations denouncing ISIS, something which these states may be reluctant to do. But such demonstrations matter to target audiences in the region, and we need to encourage partners to make them happen.

…as do the message and the medium

At home, the United States and other Western nations should mount communication campaigns to deter recruitment. ISIS has displayed a sophisticated capacity for using social media to communicate with English-speaking audiences. In the US context, such efforts fall outside of General Allen’s mandate in the Middle East, but the messages need to be consistent with what is said there. The US and Western partners should avoid presuming which narratives, themes and messages resonate with ISIS’s target audiences. Let’s find out – and then identify credible messages and messengers (who almost certainly will be Muslim) to undercut ISIS’s credibility and legitimacy. Western efforts will need to be coordinated so that messages are consistent.

At the same time, it should not be presumed that each Western-based Muslim audience is the same. We need a multi-pronged, nuanced approach that is well targeted at distinct cultural communities. For example, second-generation Muslims who are not fully integrated into US communities, and feel alienated, may be motivated by different factors than older generations. The US should fund these discreet campaigns, do so transparently, and show deference to leaders in letting them communicate to their communities in culturally appropriate ways.

We should be careful, in all of this, not to make ISIS larger than life. Exaggerating their power or describing them as warriors will simply attract new recruits. General Allen is correct: let us treat them as an organised criminal gang of thieves and murders. Apparently ISIS does not like to be called Da’esh – a sign of vulnerability that can be exploited. Any step that provokes ISIS can cause it to make a mistake, and a thoughtful communication strategy offers a lot of options for causing ISIS grief.

Finally, though ISIS’s leaders avoid social media to conceal their locations, its fighters and supporters use it widely. Let’s do as much as possible to shut down their ability to be heard (though accepting that they can always move to new sites), while enabling credible voices – certainly not State Department or other US government messengers – to inject themselves into online forums to counter ISIS propaganda and discourse.

Taken together, these elements represent a starting point for winning the information fight against ISIS. It is worth emphasising that a communication strategy can only truly work when based on the right political and military foundations. The Iraqi aspect of the military conflict is difficult enough, and thus far the military or political strategy for prevailing in Syria is oblique. But once those are forged, an effective, well thought-out, innovative and flexibly executed communication strategy will be crucial.

Darby Arakelian is a national security expert and former CIA officer.

James P. Farwell is a national security expert who has advised the US Special Operations Command, and is the author of Persuasion & Power (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2012). He will explore ISIS’s own propaganda efforts in the December–January issue of Survival, in an article entitled ‘The Media Strategy of ISIS’.

Together, Darby Arakelian and James P. Farwell are the co-authors of Communication Strategy: How to Forge One That Wins, soon to be published by the Joint Special Operations University. The views expressed here are their own and not those of any US government body.

Dana H. Allin: US Politics and the Climate Deal

It is now two weeks to the day since President Obama’s party suffered another ‘shellacking’ – though he didn’t use the word this time – in midterm elections. There was much immediate chatter about the president’s supposedly diminished power at home and abroad. In a couple of news interviews and a blog post, I tried to put this in context. In terms of structural power relations in US domestic politics, not much had changed, while the notion that the president was now crippled in his conduct of foreign policy I found even less convincing. It’s not that an electoral defeat of this magnitude will have no effect, but the effect will be marginal.

In the meantime, Obama has made it pretty clear that he does not intend to behave like a lame-duck president. The ‘red rag to a bull’ that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned against will be fully unfurled very soon: executive action to lift the threat of deportation from millions of illegal immigrants.

And last week in Beijing the president delivered the most important piece of evidence in support of my argument. The climate-change deal that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced is hugely significant. Alongside a number of detailed cooperative measures, it announces the United States’ intention to have cut emissions by 26–28% from 2005 levels by 2025, and China’s intention that its emissions should peak in 2030, by which point it aims to have increased the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to 20%. 

Together the two countries account for more than four-tenths of global carbon emissions, so their agreed restraint would be important in itself. But it should also have a political and technological cascade effect on economic powers such as India, which is reluctant to commit itself to reducing emissions, and the European Union, which is already fully committed. Aside from diplomatic pressure, having the world’s two largest economies and biggest polluters seriously regulating greenhouse gases will have economic and technological feedback effects that should encourage innovation and make low-carbon energy more feasible on a global basis.

Republican opponents of such measures have already shifted from arguing that China would never agree to such a deal to arguing that Beijing can’t be trusted to stick to it. But the New York Times last week offered a number of reasons why the Chinese might indeed honour their commitment: among others, pollution is a very problem for them, with severe economic and public-health consequences for the society, and unpredictable political consequences for the regime. Moreover, it may be the case – though this is hardly to the Obama–Xi deal’s credit – that 2030 is the date at which Chinese emissions would have peaked anyway, should they follow their current trajectory.

Of course, China and the rest of the world might well question whether the United States, which remains the world’s second-largest emitter, will honour the agreement. With Republican Senate control, and their House majority further entrenched, it becomes even more difficult to imagine, for many years to come, legislative action to curtail carbon emissions. The tenor of Republican thinking on the matter comes through in a quote from Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, circulating as his party’s Senate takeover made him the likely chair of the key committee in charge of environmental issues: 

[T]he Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.’ My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.

This may be extreme but, in US conservative circles, it is not that extreme.

The good news, however, is that legislation may not be needed because it has already been enacted. President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act in 1970, leading to the setting up of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the following year. This law requires the EPA to regulate air pollution, and in 2007 the US Supreme Court, dominated by conservatives, ruled that greenhouse gases are among the pollutants that must be regulated. Given the potentially catastrophic consequences of pumping too much carbon into the atmosphere, such an interpretation wasn’t really a stretch.

This is why Obama’s executive action to make deals in Beijing and to regulate coal-fired power plants at home is not, pace Republican objections, even remotely dictatorial. The law is the law until it is overturned by new legislation, which would have to be signed by the president or enacted by a two-thirds congressional majority overturning his veto. Neither is going to happen under this presidency.

Obama is now indeed a lame duck president, in the conventional sense. He can’t be re-elected, and he has fought his last campaign for congressional seats. So the important question is this one: how will the evolution of American politics influence the likelihood of America sticking to these commitments?

The two basic scenarios are, obviously, a Democratic successor in 2017, or a Republican. A Democratic president, such as Hillary Clinton, would certainly lock in Obama’s climate policies. Clinton has called climate change ‘the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world.’

An election result that handed the White House as well as both Houses of Congress to Republicans would, in theory, give them the opportunity to undo the deal. That said, the Party does probably need to tone down its image to have a hope of winning back the White House, and there is no reason to assume that relative moderates like former Florida governor Jeb Bush have a visceral opposition to saving the planet. (The prospect that the next election will pit a Bush against a Clinton is the surreal subject for another post.)

In any event, opinion polls show large majorities of voters in favour of action to deal with the problem of rising global temperatures. That doesn’t mean, of course, that the issue will determine their votes on election day. But it does at least offer space for restored consensus.

There can be hope for consensus on another part of the problem, too. Climate change is a matter of great-power diplomacy because the world’s seven or eight largest economies, including the EU, account for such a huge share of greenhouse gasses. In Beijing last week, and in the secret Sino-American negotiations that preceded the summit, Obama had to practice such diplomacy as the art of setting priorities. That is to say: he had to decide where the problem of potentially catastrophic climate change fits in an overall agenda of issues that include cyber espionage, human rights, Beijing’s behaviour in the South China Sea and vis-á-vis Japan, and trade disputes. He made the right call, but can expect it to be the target of campaign criticism in 2016. Happily, though, it is by now a time-honoured tradition of American politics that China-bashing candidates become practitioners of a more mellow China diplomacy if and when they move into the White House.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Testing nuclear-test-ban treaty preparations

Standing on a rocky hill on the banks of the Dead Sea, I heard a small thud, meant to simulate the tiny aftershocks of a nuclear test explosion. I was there on 15 November to observe one day of the largest-ever field exercise carried out by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

When the CTBT will come into effect is anybody’s guess. In the 18 years since it has been open to signature, 183 states have put their names to it, but under the treaty’s excessive entry-into-force rules, ratification by eight more nuclear-technology-holding states is still required. Most notable among them is my own country, the United States, where prospects for ratification took a step backwards earlier this month when treaty-sceptical Republicans gained control of the Senate. Still, the Vienna-based verification agency needs to be ready to perform when the day comes. Hence the intense simulation exercise in Jordan, which was four years in the planning.

The month-long exercise will cost $10 million and involves over 200 specialists and 50 tonnes of shipped-in equipment. Fifteen different verification technologies are available to the inspectors, involving most of the human senses plus several extra-human means. Visual observation specialists hunt for patterns of disturbed rocks and ground cracks. Seismic sensors detect when the cavity caused by an underground explosion gradually collapses, producing minute aftershocks. Radionuclide equipment sniffs for tell-tale traces of noble gases. Some of the other techniques are multi-spectral imaging, magnetic-field mapping, environmental sampling, electrical conductivity measurements and gamma-spectral imaging. Drawing on these means, an on-site inspection can determine with reasonable confidence whether a suspicious seismic event is a man-made conventional explosion, a nuclear explosion or an earthquake. The latter, for example, generate far larger aftershocks.

An on-site-inspection naturally requires the cooperation of the inspected state. In this case, it is a fictional state, ‘Maridia’ with role-players from around the world and borders that bear little resemblance to Sykes-Picot lines. But Jordan’s hosting role is crucial. Offering its territory for the exercise attests to Amman’s unsurpassed non-proliferation credentials. The security that Jordan provides to protect all that equipment, for example, is remarkable at a time when the kingdom’s borders are under strain by war to the north. The cooperation that Jordan is offering for the exercise sets a high bar for what will be expected of any host party in a real-life on-site inspection.

As CTBTO Preparatory Commission Executive Director Lassina Zerbo explained at the beginning of the VIP observation day, Jordan was chosen for the exercise because in a region of instability it is a hub of peace and stability. Three of its neighbours – Egypt, Iran and Israel – have yet to ratify the treaty; Zerbo hoped the exercise would help create the conditions for them to come aboard.

Representatives from Iran and Israel were among the VIP visitors on 15 November. When they happened to sit down next to one another at the end of the field visit to watch the sun setting over the Dead Sea, I was tempted to take a mischievous photo. Several officials from treaty outsiders China and the US were also present. If only the enthusiasm they showed for the exercise could be reflected in national ratification decisions. In failing to attend the VIP event, Egypt seemed less enthusiastic, but will send technical experts to Jordan later in the exercise.

The simulation was also observed by officials from dozens of treaty adherents. They, by contrast, are enthusiastic about the CTBT to a fault. Because the treaty bans nuclear explosions ‘by everyone, everywhere’, to use a favoured phrase, adherence makes it difficult to newly develop nuclear weapons or to develop new types of weapons. It is thus ideal for stemming both horizontal and vertical proliferation. Its entry into force is the step most sought after by those who seek to protect the planet from nuclear ravages. In the meantime, viva the CTBTO Preparatory Commission and its verification preparations as well as the supportive host country. 

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Dana H. Allin: Republicans’ very good night

The Democrats’ defeat in Tuesday’s US mid-term elections was somewhat worse than expected – but it was expected nonetheless. Even though the Republicans won the Senate by a decisive margin, not much in the structure of American political power will change. American governance was structurally gridlocked on Monday, and it remains so today, if marginally more so.

This is because there is simply no significant legislation the president can get through the conservative-dominated House of Representatives – not even legislation, such as immigration reform, that is arguably in the Republicans’ long-term electoral interest. Nor is there any significant conservative legislation that the Republicans can move past a 40% blocking minority in the Senate, or past President Barack Obama’s veto.

The Republicans' control of the Senate does however give them the power to block executive and judicial appointments, and this could be significant. Indeed, as Jonathan Chait has argued, it could even provoke something close to constitutional crisis if a Supreme Court vacancy opens up and the Senate refuses to accept any of Obama’s nominees to fill it.  In the past, this wasn’t an issue because tradition dictated that even a Senate of the opposite party would defer to the president unless the nominee was ideologically extreme, incompetent, corrupt, or all three. But with American political system so extremely polarised, and Republicans having already broken from this tradition in regard to other presidential appointments, we are in uncharted territory.

There were about six very close Senate races, and Republicans won almost all of them. Now, it has to be said that those races were ripe for the picking. Because of the Senate’s staggered six-year terms, Democrats were defending more seats than Republicans; they were defending marginal seats in Republican-leaning states that they picked up in Obama’s 2008 electoral landslide; and they were defending seats in the south and the prairie states, where conservatism dominates and Obama is extremely unpopular. In 2016, that landscape will be much more favourable to the left (two years from now, Republicans will be defending the gains from their 2010 wave victory).

Mid-terms are favourable terrain for Republicans in more basic ways. The turnout is lower than in presidential elections, and minority and younger voters are less likely to make it to the polls than older whites. If on Tuesday the demographic makeup of those who voted had been similar to that of the electorate in 2012, Democrats would have fared better, which is another indication that 2016 should be easier for them. That said, the Republican establishment managed to do something that sets it up for a more credible bid in the next presidential election: it wrested nominations from some Tea Party extremists in a focused effort to improve the party brand. This suggests it should be in better position to present a credible and more moderate candidate for president in two years. (Mitt Romney was a moderate Republican by history and arguably temperament, but he was pushed rather far to the right by an the extremely conservative primary electorate of 2012.)

Two years after his decisive re-election, Obama is not a popular president, and his unpopularity certainly hurt his party yesterday. The decision of many endangered Democratic candidates to run from his shadow was either shrewd or cowardly, but it didn’t save anyone. John Judis is probably correct to argue that the disastrous rollout of the Obamacare website last October constituted his Hurricane Katrina. The website was fixed, and the healthcare reform has been – by most measures – successful. But minds were made up by the initial website disaster, and so the policy success has come at a steep political price.

Dana H. Allin is Editor of Survival and Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs at the IISS.

Kiran Hassan: Is Pakistan–India Enmity Popular?

Sunday’s killing of more than 55 people in a suicide bombing at the Wagah crossing is a distressing follow-up to the return of shelling across the border of the disputed territory of Kashmir. In early October, after that flurry of violence, the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers exchanged sharp statements, belying what they had told the UN General Assembly in September about their desire for mutual engagement.

At the time of those softer overtures, political pundits, experts and analysts had been sceptical. Meaningful dialogue between the two countries in the near future, they judged – seemingly rightly – is unlikely. Yet I would argue otherwise: dialogue might be unlikely, but were it to take place, it could certainly be meaningful.

It is unfortunate that Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif failed to use the UN session as an opportunity to meet and to table plans for addressing terrorism and border disputes. For had they looked towards recent contacts between the Indian and Pakistani publics, they might have found some grounds for comfort.

Notwithstanding official tensions, one can find anecdotal evidence of popular rapprochement. A trade fair advertising top Pakistani fashion brands, held in New Delhi from September 11–14, reportedly attracted 500,000 attendees on its first day and more than $35 million in current and future business. A week later, the Bollywood film Khubsoorat collected a record Rs10 million for a non-holiday weekday in Pakistan. Khobsoorat’s lead is a Pakistani actor known for his work on Indian TV, and the new Indian channel Zindagi has found encouraging audiences for its Pakistani shows. Literary festivals in both countries, meanwhile, have flourished: Indian author and columnist Shobhaa De returned from Lahore in April saying that her reception there had been ‘all hospitality and no hostility’.

Polling data lends weight to these anecdotes: a Pew Research survey from 2012 shows that the Indian and Pakistani people have for a while now favoured both improved bilateral relations and increased trade. South Asia’s public mood has changed, which should be a wake-up call for its leaders. And hunger for regional normalisation makes the ritual generation of antipathy towards the nuclear-armed arch rival more difficult. When Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto promised in a 20 September speech to regain ‘every inch of Kashmir’, for example, he got a lukewarm reception, in contrast to the interest generated by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s protests for domestic reform.

Official incitements to cross-border hostility run counter to a change in mood which should not be ignored, for three reasons. In the first place, as the information revolution widens political participation, the tension between sympathetic Indo-Pakistani public attitudes and hostile foreign policies will become harder to sustain. A leadership which fails to keep its ear to the ground is likely to achieve less domestically.

Secondly, the huge youth bulge in both countries is creating a constituency that has already shown it will only respond to policy delivery. Continuing political deadlocks will be harder to justify, especially if they hamper economic growth. Prime Minister Modi’s ‘100-day agenda’ is a sign of some awareness on this front, aiming at attracting foreign investment to support youth employment and education. Nawaz Sharif’s preference for traditional politics, by contrast, has caused a domestic backlash.

Thirdly, public diplomacy has made great breakthroughs in the past. There is now a rare opportunity for the current leaderships to cash in on public sentiment and do a great deal to improve relations with a highly mistrusted neighbour.

But for that to happen, there must be fresh starts on a number of fronts. Pakistan must abandon its obsessive fear of Indian domination. Many observers predict fast economic growth and, with it, rising power for Modi’s India. Under these circumstances, it is in Pakistan’s interest to focus on the incentives for cooperation offered by its eastern neighbour.

India, for its part, must take the Pakistani military as the most serious stakeholder with which to engage. And India should engage actively, rather than waiting for Pakistan’s civilian governments to take the lead.

While this is being done, both countries should start to see trade initiatives not as bargaining chips, but as parts of a serious effort to address South Asia’s growing poverty. Experts stress, too, that not only bilateral relations but regional stability will depend on the development of a collaborative dialogue over each other’s influence in Afghanistan, an area in which both India and Pakistan have long expressed grievances.

The joint awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to children’s rights campaigners Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, a Pakistani and an Indian, is a symbol of the millions of South Asians who stand for peace. This is the sentiment that should be recognised and applauded: a belief in a conflict-free future for the region. Much could be gained if the two countries’ respective leaders shared that belief.

Kiran Hassan is Research Assistant for South Asia at IISS.

By Kiran Hassan, Research Assistant, South Asia

Jeffrey Mazo: Britain as an Arctic Nation

Over the last four days I’ve been at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland. This international conference, now in its second year and set to be an annual fixture, brings together policymakers, parliamentarians, scientists, scholars, analysts, activists, businesses and others with an interest or stake in the Arctic. I had the opportunity to talk in the plenary session on Britain in the Arctic, organised by MP James Gray, who is a member of the Defence Select Committee and vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions.

The title of my talk was ‘Britain as an Arctic Nation’. Britain is of course manifestly not an Arctic nation, nor does it make any legal or moral claims to be so. But this has not always been the case. Although today there are eight Arctic states, just a century and a half ago there were only four, and one of them was the United Kingdom. Finland and Alaska were part of Russia; Iceland was a Danish colony and Norway was in a union with Sweden, with foreign policy conducted from Stockholm. Canada was a disparate collection of British colonies and territories. Even after it became a unified, independent dominion in 1867, the UK retained its Arctic territories for several years. Between 1864 and the present, the constellation of Arctic states changed six times, reaching its current stable form only in 1944. And with the prospect of Greenlandic independence, it could change again.

Geographically, Britain can now, uniquely, be defined as a ‘near Arctic’ nation. Its northernmost point since the sixteenth century, the delightfully named ‘Muckle Flugga’ in the Shetlands, lies only 75 kilometres south of the Faroes, and north of the 60th parallel that defines the boundary of the Arctic near those islands. It is closer to the Arctic Circle than it is to the northernmost latitude of Germany, the second-most northern of the Arctic Council observer states.

Driven by commerce and the search for resources, Britain has been northward-looking in strategic and cultural terms for as long as any of the modern Arctic nations, and for longer than some. In the year 890, King Alfred the Great of Wessex commissioned a record of the hunting and fishing voyages around the North Cape and into the White Sea by a Norwegian trader who lived north of the Arctic Circle. This document is actually the first time the names of ‘Norway’ and ‘Denmark’ appear in the written record although, like England, neither was yet a unified kingdom. British trade and fisheries in the High North continued throughout the Middle Ages; the fifteenth century is known to Icelandic historians as ‘the English Age’. And it was from English scholarship in the service of the English crown that Gerardus Mercator derived his map of the polar region. The fact that it was almost entirely wrong is beside the point.

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw British voyages of exploration funded by commercial interests in search of both the Northwest and Northeast passages; two of the four great English joint-stock companies of the period were involved primarily in Arctic trade. And in addition to its driving role in Arctic exploration, discovery and scientific research since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Royal Navy has conducted offensive operations, convoy protection, blockades and strategic interdiction in Arctic waters during the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, the First and Second World Wars and the Cold War. 

Britain’s role in the Arctic until the twentieth century was imperial and colonial. But this is no less true of the other nineteenth-century Arctic powers. Some of the world’s strongest alliances and closest friendships today are among the Arctic states, states who had colonial relationships and even fought wars with each other within the last five or six generations.

This brief excursion into Britain’s Arctic history might seem like a bit of special pleading, to rationalise her continued role – something like the English professor who used similarities between the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Icelandic Sagas to justify the British occupation of Iceland in 1940. But these examples are not cherry-picked; Britain’s involvement in the Arctic has been sustained and significant for over a thousand years. Although Britain no longer has any territory, claims or ambitions in the Arctic, its long experience of exploration, commerce and scientific investigation – as long as any modern Arctic nation’s – has left a legacy of capability and leadership in regional affairs as well as a cultural self-image as an Arctic actor. It is a matter of institutional memory on a national scale. This legacy is reflected in the British government’s Arctic Policy Framework, as well as in British civil society, the business community and industry. It is Britain’s history as an Arctic nation that positions her to play a unique role among non-Arctic states in supporting development, governance and stewardship of the region.

Many of the themes I raised in my brief talk were independently explored and extended in a breakout session on Saturday, notably by Duncan Depledge of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and Corine Wood-Donnelly, who has recently completed her PhD on Arctic governance. I sadly missed those talks, as they conflicted with another session on the military strategies and defence policies of the Arctic states. It probably wasn’t deliberate, but three of the four breakout sessions on security were hidden away in rooms that required sophisticated intelligence-gathering and navigation capabilities to find. I’m used to big security conferences where the Arctic or climate change are niche topics; it was odd to be at an Arctic conference where security was the orphan child. But there was, at least, a stimulating plenary on Arctic security on Sunday morning. 

Jeffrey Mazo is IISS Consulting Senior Fellow for Environmental Security and Science Policy, and Consulting Editor of Survival.

Christian Le Miere: The hunt for historical relevance in Sweden’s waters

On 24 October, a week-long submarine hunt in Swedish waters ended, seemingly unsuccessfully. The operation was dubbed ‘The Hunt for Reds in October’ by international media. This light-hearted moniker may be inaccurate (are we even allowed to call Russians ‘Reds’ anymore?) and presumptuous (given that the national origin of the submarine is still unconfirmed), but is nonetheless useful as a signifier of earlier incidents in the Nordic countries.

The most famous submarine incident in Sweden was the equally amusingly named ‘Whiskey on the Rocks’ episode in 1981. This was a salutary event for the Swedish armed forces and public, during which a Soviet Whiskey-class submarine became stranded on rocks just two kilometres from Karlskrona naval base. But an event more relevant to the recent sub hunt in Swedish waters actually occurred a year later, when the sighting of a submarine periscope in Hårsfjärden prompted a search that included the use of 47 depth charges and five mines, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

A Survival article from 1983 outlines both the importance of the Hårsfjärden incident and the fact that this was but one of many suspected submarine incursions into Nordic waters during that period. Written by now former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt, who was then a member of parliament on the Submarine Defence Committee, the article outlined the investigations into submarine incidents in Sweden following Hårsfjärden, which was itself the last in a series of 40 certain or possible incidents in the first three quarters of 1982. Prior to that, there had been 10 certain or possible incidents in 1981 and nine in 1980.

The recent sub hunt should therefore come as no surprise, and given past experience it is perhaps sensible to also presume that the sighting of one submarine may not simply indicate one incursion, but more likely a number of incursions that go undetected. In fact, as Bildt points out, during the Cold War it was not just Sweden that was on the receiving end of such visitors: Norway launched a major two-week hunt in 1972 after detecting a submarine in Sognefjord, and another in late April 1983 after a submarine was seen by civilians off the coast of Bergen. Oslo claimed to have recorded 122 certain, probable or possible submarine incursions between 1969 and 1982.

The Survival article is also useful for pointing out the presumed motives behind the submarine incursions in the 1980s. Dismissing the likelihood of such operations being intelligence-gathering in nature – the co-ordinated and frequent visits were too large in scale to be purely for such purposes – the Swedish Submarine Defence Commission rather suggested that they were part of training and exercises for possible manoeuvres in times of war.

The 30-year-old article thus has relevance to the events of the past week. While this has been an isolated case thus far, and the identity of the submarine has not been provided, it is useful to bear in mind the history of incursions in Nordic waters in the twentieth century. Therefore as with the Hårsfjärden incident in 1982, the importance of the recent hunt is not necessarily specific to the event itself, but serves more to further underline the combination of a more confident and present Russian military and the more than two decades of Swedish defence spending cuts. It will be difficult, even for a newly elected Social Democrat-led government, to withstand public pressure to fund better defences against future such incursions.

Christian Le Mière is Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security.

'Sweden and the Soviet Submarines' by Carl Bildt (Survival, Volume 25, Issue 4, 1983) can be accessed here.

Mark Fitzpatrick: Viewing North Korea vicariously

Despite having followed North Korea off and on for my entire career, I am often reminded of how much I do not know. My conference travel schedule to exotic places took me last week to Preston, in northern England, to attend a scholarly workshop on Korean security. It was the coming-out party, so to speak, for the new International Institute of Korean Studies at the University of Central Lancashire, and it attracted some of the top Korean experts from Europe, Russia and China, as well as the US and the Republic of Korea.

Although I found myself in disagreement with some of the presentations, the way the discussion challenged many of my assumptions made me realise how much about North Korea remains open to debate.

Some participants claimed, for example, that North Korea has the potential to become the next Asian tiger. Its advantages include immense human capital, with universal education for 11 years and another year recently added; mineral wealth, including rare-earth deposits estimated to be among the largest in the world; a powerful partner in China; a strong, functioning state and, it was said, a risk-taking leader who might be able to embark on a serious reform programme.  

I challenged the ‘tiger’ prospect on grounds of the absence of rule of law, respect for property rights and Internet access; confiscatory policies and behaviour such as the abrupt closing of the Kaesong Joint Industrial Zone and the detention of American tourists. The pervasive corruption, policy contradictions and dysfunctional ideology of the state make me think that implosion is inevitable at some point.

Those at the conference who have often visited North Korea pointed to what one called ‘tremendous developments’ of the past 20 years, which the Western media have largely ignored. Pyongyang is booming with consumerism and construction, and was said to now have the appearance of a provincial Chinese city. Malnutrition has dropped dramatically since 1998, and North Korea is enjoying a bumper harvest for the third year in a row. Economic policy adjustments are beginning to kick in. It is thus unrealistic to assume that North Korea is desperate for outside assistance.

Assumptions of political instability were also challenged, with Kim Jong-un said to be firmly in control of a resilient state. (Confession: my 13 October blog post about Kim’s absence meaning something is amiss was disproven within hours when he reappeared.) One hypothesis advanced for why Kim missed visiting the family mausoleum on the founding day of the Korean Workers’ Party on 10 October was that he simply did not want to. The foot injury from which he was recovering for 40 days was not so serious to have kept him bedridden. As with his decision to appear in public with his wife, he is conducting his affairs in a manner different from that of his father and grandfather.

Whether Kim’s different conduct extends to foreign and security policy is a harder case to prove. It was pointed out that most of the North Koreans sanctioned by the United States after the 2012 missile launch which scuttled the two countries’ ‘Leap Day’ deal were gone: ‘Kim Jong-un purged them for us.’ Their support for obstructionist foreign policies was surely not the reason they were removed, however.

As noted by more than one scholar, North Korea does appear to be trying to diversify its foreign relations so as to be less dependent on China. But so far this is only working with Russia, with whom trade is still marginal. Last month, North Korea failed to provide an expected initial report to Japan on the abduction issue. The 21 October release of a detained American tourist is welcome news but does not erase the ill will left by his incarceration in the first place (on grounds of having left a bible in a bar).

Two scholars challenged the contention that the Korean Peninsula is in crisis. There have been no deadly incidents since 2010; indeed no kinetic activity since Kim Jong-un came to power at the end of 2011. The assumption that North Korea provides a useful buffer for China also came under question. It was argued that advances in military technology make the buffer zone concept meaningless. Growing scepticism in China about the North’s utility as a buffer have contributed to a change in the China–North Korea relationship, which was said to be based no longer on ideology but, rather, on the normal weighing of national interests. On the other hand, recently released archival evidence summarised by another scholar shows that China’s treatment of North Korea over the years has been far less accommodating than the ‘as close as lips and teeth’ alliance metaphor suggests.

Surely all nations should treat North Korea in accordance with their national interests and an unblinkered understanding. View the nation with vicariousness (that is, with empathy), not demonisation, was the repeated advice from the most eminent of the conference participants. I didn’t agree with everything else he said, but that advice cannot be faulted.

Mark Fitzpatrick is Director of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme.

Charlotte Kennedy: Australia and the ISIS fight within

Australia’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, stands in front of a group of photographers at a Sydney beach. Middle-aged and Putin-esque, he wears nothing but a pair of red Speedos as he addresses the media. Abbott, elected in September 2013, is known both at home and abroad for his conservative 1950s brand of politics and a habit of holding press conferences post-workout and in lycra bicycle shorts. Upon entering office, he rapidly became one of the most unpopular Prime Ministers in Australia’s history.

As the US searched for willing coalition partners in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), it found an eager ally in Prime Minister Abbott, an anglophile and staunch supporter of the US–Australia alliance. Abbott, who attracted a large amount of criticism after clumsily describing the Syrian conflict last year as a war of ‘the baddies versus the baddies’, announced in October that Australia would deploy 600 military personnel and special forces to the Middle East to participate in the US-led airstrike campaign against the ‘apocalyptic death cult’ of ISIS in Iraq.

Like US President Barack Obama, Abbott has been at pains to avoid using the word ‘war’ to describe the operation against ISIS, after pulling the last two Australian troops out of Iraq in 2013. Still, there is a sense within Australia that the country is now on a war footing, with the finance minister recently announcing that the government may have to raise taxes to help fund efforts against ISIS at home and abroad. The statement was quickly countered by Abbott, elected on a platform of lowering taxes, who assured the public that, ‘We think we can afford it.’

Australia, normally known for its laidback attitude towards global politics, has become an increasingly nervous place in recent months. The Abbott government rushed ‘Patriot Act’-style legislation through parliament at the end of September, and has since tabled further changes in the Senate. The legislation extends the life of preventative detention orders allowing police and internal security agencies to detain and question terrorist suspects without charge, and provides the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) with new powers to monitor an individual’s activity across the Internet with only one warrant. The Senate also introduced tough penalties for journalists and whistleblowers, who could be jailed for up to 10 years for recklessly disclosing information related to a special intelligence operation.

The atmosphere has become especially tense in the outlying suburbs of Australia’s major cities of Sydney and Melbourne, where Australia’s small Muslim community (which represents around 1% of the total population, or less than 500,000 people) has reported increased scrutiny of its people and mosques by internal intelligence agencies. Muslims, including women wearing headscarves, have also been the victims of violent attacks.

On 12 September, Abbott raised Australia’s terror alert from medium to high, meaning the threat of a terrorist attack was ‘likely’ but not yet ‘imminent’. It was the first time a change to the alert had been announced in over 11 years. It was also the first time most Australians were reminded of the alert system since it was introduced in 2003.

Days later on 17 September, the people of Sydney awoke in the early hours to the sound of helicopters hovering and over 800 Australian police officers conducting citywide raids on 25 homes, mosques and businesses across the city. Police, who were told the raids would be ‘low key’, were surprised to find the media accompanying them during the pre-dawn raids and their pictures featured on the front page of the next day’s newspaper.

The citywide raid was the largest ever counter-terrorism operation in Australia’s history. It resulted in the arrest of 15 suspects, of which only one – 22-year-old apprentice mechanic Omarjan Azari of suburban Sydney – was charged with conspiring to commit an act of terrorism. Police contacts described the operation as a ‘circus’.

According to the limited information released to the public, the arrests were made on the basis of an intercepted phone call indicating there was a plan to carry out an ‘ISIS-style beheading’ in the central business district of Sydney. If this had occurred, it would have been the first terrorist attack on Australian soil and would have profoundly altered the Australian national psyche.

After the raids, the security around Parliament House, normally quite relaxed, was bolstered. The speaker of Australia’s parliament, Bronwyn Bishop, and conservative politician George Christensen initiated a security review of parliament, requesting that anyone wearing a burqa or niqab be banned from entering the parliamentary building. Realising such a move would be contrary not only to democratic spirit but probably also to the law, Bishop and Senate president Stephen Perry proposed to instead relegate anyone with a ‘burqa, niqab, helmet or balaclava’ to a soundproof glass room in the parliamentary gallery – a place normally reserved for noisy schoolchildren.

The burqa debate in Australia has divided the country, the conservative government itself and has revealed the ugly side of the national security conversation. The government has conceded that there is no record of a woman in a burqa ever trying to enter the parliament building. And while Abbott has not supported his colleagues in pushing for the ban on burqas, noting that Australia is a free country, he did tell reporters that he personally ‘found [them] a fairly confronting form of attire’ and he wished they were not worn. Australian Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, appointed by Abbott last year, agreed.

Members of Australia’s Muslim community hit back at the Prime Minister, stating that they actually found his small red Speedos a pretty ‘confronting’ form attire, but in a free country, we all must live with such things.

Francesco Cenedese: Could Matteo Renzi be Europe’s last chance?

The European Union needs an effective political leader against the austerity policies associated with, and in some sense imposed by, Germany. The man for the job should have been French president François Hollande, but he has been busy dealing with private scandals and the lowest approval rating for a national leader in decades. After the European parliamentary elections in May, some in Europe started to look to Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi to fill the role.

Given Renzi’s electoral success, this response is understandable, yet also quite worrying; it is imprudent to look to one man as the solution to the problems of an entire continent. Over the past two decades, Italians have deluded themselves that one person can successfully serve as the saviour of a country. They believed it in 1994 with Silvio Berlusconi, and again in 2011 with technocrat Mario Monti. Some now see Renzi as Italy’s salvation. But Italians should have learned the hard way that a one-man show will never be a panacea for their country’s structural problems.

Yet, interestingly, the current generation of the European left has come to regard Renzi as an agent of hope. The French newspaper Les Echos recently wrote of French prime minister Manuel Valls taking a ‘Renzist turn’. Le Monde has reported on Valls receiving petites leçons d’Italie (little lessons from Italy) on how to rebuild a left-wing party. On the other side of the Pyrenees, the new socialist leader Pedro Sánchez has declared his admiration for Renzi, naming him his ‘reference point in Europe’, according to El Pas.

Renzi reached his current position because he was the best of a bad lot at a time of widespread political mediocrity. As Johns Hopkins history professor Mark Gilbert observed in a recent Survival article, Renzi is ‘a product of Italy’s decline’. Without Italy’s decades-long politico-economic crisis, he would still be the mayor of Florence, ‘presiding over civil weddings and the committee on parking permits’. Thus Renzi emerged by a process of elimination rather than by standing out as an exceptional candidate. And yet I can think of at least five reasons that could explain why, in a Europe of average politicians, he exhibits such a broad appeal.

Firstly, Renzi has undeniable charisma, an element that is in short supply in the EU. In recent years, Brussels bureaucrats, wearing the black suits of austerity, have appeared distant and detached from citizens’ preoccupations. The trio of Angela Merkel, David Cameron and François Hollande has rarely lifted anyone’s spirits. Conversely, Renzi seems to be the leader capable of bringing some much-needed energy and vigour to the European project. His communication is direct, immediate and (occasionally) inspiring. 

A 2012 New York Times article went as far as to describe Renzi as an ‘Italian-style Obama’. I would disagree. He is a good public speaker, but does not have Obama’s oratorical talent. His metaphors are a mixture of references to classical history and informal expressions such as ‘Hey! Look; I just took a selfie!’ that often sound awkward. Nevertheless, Europe can benefit from Renzi’s energetic personality.

Secondly, the Italian prime minister has earned a reputation for decisiveness, something the European Union currently lacks. In February, he obtained his leadership position with a swift and ruthless palace coup against Enrico Letta, the prime minister at the time. This development was unexpected, especially because Renzi has always stressed the importance of a strong popular mandate. Yet the 39-year-old former mayor risked his political career to become the youngest prime minister in Italy’s history; that required courage.

Thirdly, and in spite of this manoeuvre, Renzi possesses political legitimacy – thanks to his party’s convincing victory in the European parliamentary elections that took place three months after he became prime minister. Even after all this time, the sense of democratic deficit still resonates strongly in the minds of European citizens. In May, Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD) won 41% of the vote in Italy. This result oddly gave him more legitimacy at the European level than at the domestic one, where he was appointed by head of state Giorgio Napolitano after a government re-shuffle. Among national parties, Renzi’s PD was the most successful in Europe, winning around 11 million votes – a million clear of Angela Merkel’s CDU–CSU (Christian Democratic Union of Germany and Christian Social Union in Bavaria) coalition. It also became the largest shareholder of the centre-left Party of European Socialists (PES) – which, however, lost in the overall elections. But the PES is still the only political force, if one excludes the eurosceptic parties, to oppose the policies of austerity, supported by the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) in the previous European Commission of José Manuel Barroso.

Meanwhile, other national leaders who wield influence at the EU level do not appear to be capable of getting the job done. In a recent op-ed entitled ‘The Fall of France&rsquo